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Everyone’s story is different as they approach the end of life. Sometimes death is sudden, shocking loved ones into instant grief. Other times, death takes its time, coming on gradually as the patient lingers while loved ones do their best to comfort and say goodbye. Age can grip us in many different ways, sometimes weakening our bodies but leaving our minds alert, or the opposite: maintaining physical strength offset by cognitive losses. While each person’s story has different chapters and an ending to the tale of a life well lived, it’s still a time of sadness, reflection, and even hope. End of life care often referred to as hospice, can ease these transitions for both patients and family members.

Our San Mateo professionals at Pathways Home Health and Hospice know how precious this time is, offering up their insights on what to expect from end of life care. This is the term used to describe the support and medical care given during the time surrounding death, according to the National Institute on Aging. But such care doesn’t just take place moments before the heart stops beating. Often times, older people suffer from chronic illnesses and need attentive care for days, weeks, and even months before they die.

Care staff is there to help families with the medical, psychological, social and spiritual issues centered around dying.

Tips on What to Expect

From both a patient perspective and a family member perspective, the time surrounding impending death can be fraught with confusion, fear, pain, and frustration. Those approaching the end of their life are entitled to get access to high-quality care and respect, with that care being custom tailored to the patient. Work together to be at the center of all decision making processes regarding this time.

  1. Write down your wishes as part of a personalized care plan. Update it regularly according to changes in your situation. This is called an advance directive, and it is a document that states a person’s wishes for care.
  2. The staff caring for you or your loved one should be respectful and kind, putting comfort and dignity at the forefront. If this is not the case, bring it to the attention of the care team leader.
  3. Basic needs should be met, from pain control to help with incontinence.
  4. You will meet regularly with your care team, which is comprised of doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, nutritionists and more.
  5. While treatment to attempt to cure the disease, i.e., cancer, stops with hospice, the patient’s care continues, with an emphasis on improving quality of life, points out the National Cancer Institute. You should be made as comfortable as possible for the following weeks or months.
  6. Know the stages of the dying process, which your care team can help guide you through. For example, in the week before death, your loved one may seem confused or in a daze, having hallucinations and visions; within days or hours, their body temperature may drop and breathing is interrupted by gasping, says WebMD. Being aware of all these stages is critical to keeping fear and uncertainty at bay so that this process can be as peaceful and comforting as possible — to both parties.
  7. Keep communicating. While your loved one may seem unresponsive and withdrawn, this is a common symptom of dying and it’s their way of detaching and letting go. Remember, they can still hear you, so speak normally, tell them who you are and hold their hand. Say what you need to say, as this can help them let go.

Priorities of Care

There are five key priorities for the care and support that you should expect to receive in the last few days and hours of life. According to NHS Choices, they are:

  1. To be seen by a doctor regularly, who must explain the death and dying process to the patient and family members.
  2. The staff involved in care should communicate in a sensitive and honest manner at all times.
  3. Both patients and family members should be involved in all decisions about treatment and care.
  4. The needs of your family should be met as best as possible.
  5. You should be in agreement on an individual plan of care, delivered with compassion.

Above all, communication is key. Research shows that if patients discuss their options for care with a doctor early on, their level of stress decreases while their ability to cope with the illness increases. In addition, the research also indicates that patients prefer an open and honest conversation with their doctor about end-of-life care early in their disease, as they are more satisfied and feel more at ease after this talk.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

If you are approaching the need for end of life care and are confused about what to expect, rely on the staff here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice to guide you compassionately through this process. Please call us at 888-755-7855 to learn more about how our San Mateo professionals can help you and your family plan ahead for hospice.