Are You Ready to Deal with the Reality of Death?

caregiver support for aging parents

When a loved one dies at home, family or others who are there must often cope with the reality of the dying process. We recommend strongly that when a person is first considered being terminal, the doctor should be asked to order hospice care. We cannot stress enough how hospice care can help those involved get through a death at home or even in a care center. Oftentimes the family waits until a loved one is well along towards the end of life before hospice is considered.

Hospice is generally used for cancer patients because it is often easy to determine in advance whether a person will survive or not. If the cancer is not cured and continues to spread, death is usually inevitable. Whether that occurs in a matter of weeks or months is not important to the doctor prescribing hospice. The only requirement is the doctor must have a reasonable expectation that his patient cannot survive beyond six months. Sometimes hospice patients can receive care for years before they succumb.

For other medical conditions hospice may be just as appropriate but oftentimes the family fails to inquire or the family doctor simply doesn’t consider it. Hospice should be considered for such conditions as congestive heart failure, advanced diabetes, advanced lung disease, advanced autoimmune disorders, advanced kidney disease and so on. Even in the absence of any medical condition, a person can still qualify for hospice if he or she is deteriorating rapidly and overall health is declining. Another condition often overlooked for hospice is advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Family often wait until a loved one starts shutting down before hospice is ordered. Or sometimes hospice is not even considered for Alzheimer’s because doctors are so used to using palliative care only for cancer. If a loved one is not improving, family should always ask or even press for hospice. Remember not to wait until close to the end but order hospice at an earlier stage since it will help provide the necessary transition to the death of a loved one.

Why are we so adamant about using palliative care? Because these services focus on dying patients and will help the family get through not only the death but also give physical and spiritual comfort to the person dying as well as offering bereavement support after the death. We simply can’t stress enough the importance of using this type of support when the end is near.

When a person is close to death, physical changes occur. Blood flow slows down and fingers and toes may start turning blue or black. Breathing is labored, there is a rattling at the back of the throat and the breathing process may even cease for long periods and then resume again. A loved one will be cold and it is important to provide blankets for warmth. A loved one may be confused or he or she may simply sleep a lot. Since these changes will be noticeable to the caregiver, a call to the hospice will receive immediate response with either a visit or instructions over the phone.

Remember hospice is on call 24 hours a day and the service is there to provide exactly this kind of support when death is imminent. Because of this support, the caregiver and other family members will be able to spend more quality time at the bedside of their loved one. Their fears for their loved one will be dealt with by a staff that can be relied on for knowing exactly what to do. Supportive services with the death of a loved one can make a huge difference in the way the family handles the consequences of the death. After death occurs, the hospice workers will also make arrangements for a funeral home to pick up the body. They will also help clean up any soiled bedding and talk to the attending physician about other follow-up, say an autopsy.

This article was originally shared by National Care Planning Council

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