Hospice care is a philosophy of comfort care for people who are terminally ill with a diagnosis of less than six months to live. Care is always provided in a setting that’s best for them, which is usually at home. While physical aspects of hospice care may be the most well-known, there are also significant emotional and spiritual aspects to hospice care that many patients and families don’t even realize they need.
The Physical Aspects of Hospice Care
Every patient has different needs, but as a hospice nurse we always want to make sure that we’re managing symptoms in the best way we can. It’s all about making sure they’re comfortable and providing the best quality of life.
We make sure patients are breathing with as much ease as possible, and if not, we look for the necessary equipment and medications to help improve the situation. We also look at patients from a nutritional perspective to make sure they’re eating and drinking. If they aren’t, we figure out why and then help them manage those issues. Another large area of focus for our patients is pain and safety. Many patients experience pain as their disease progresses and we want to ensure that their pain is well managed so that they can have a better quality of life. We also focus on safety as most patients become very weak and their mobility is often affected. Our goal is to manage their pain and help them get around a little easier.
Since many of our patients are bedridden, a big physical aspect of hospice care is actually teaching families how to care for someone who is confined to their bed. When families better understand the dying process, they can better accept it.
In terms of the care team, a nurse and a home health aide help with a lot of the physical aspects, but many don’t realize that trained hospice volunteers are also supportive resources for our families. They actually do a number of things—sit with a patient while their family goes out to dinner or a social event, provide socialization and friendship for a patient, and they can even run errands for families who haven’t been able to get out to the grocery store or the post office.
Providing Emotional Comfort
Hospice care is just as emotional as it is physical. We’re coming into peoples’ lives at one of the most emotional times as they’re entering the dying process. A big component of hospice care is working with a patient and helping them understand where they’re at in the process. Some patients prefer not to talk about it—and that’s completely their choice—and caregivers will respect that. But if they do want to talk about it, there’s a team of people that can answer questions about what they’re going through.
There are also social workers and Bereavement Coordinators that do a lot of life reflection with patients. It could be anything from writing in a journal for others to read after they pass, or writing letters to family members to keep as a remembrance.
It’s also important to help families know what to expect so they can navigate life after a loved one dies. A Bereavement Coordinator can help support the whole family including children and young adults. Every situation and every family is different. It’s all about finding the appropriate ways to emotionally support a family through the grieving process.
The Power of Spiritual Support
The spiritual aspects of hospice care are often the most overlooked, but can also be the most paramount. A Chaplain often comes as an unexpected source of support because a lot of people don’t foresee the comfort that comes with talking about what it’s like to die, and how to prepare for that.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a spiritual person to get something out of it. Often a patient isn’t spiritual at all, but they end up finding great comfort in spiritual support because they’re scared. Sometimes it can bring out a spiritual side that patients didn’t even realize they had. Whether it’s prayer, quiet reflection, or practicing mindfulness, spiritual support can help calm anxiety and provide comfort.
For many families, hospice is a valuable program that can help make a difficult situation more bearable. Of course, no one wants to be at the point in their life where they need hospice care, but when the time comes it can help ease the transition for both a patient and their family. If you’re wondering if hospice is the right decision for a loved one, talk with a specialist who can answer your questions and discuss your unique needs.