Hospice care 101: Know the basics to help your loved ones

For most of us, decisions about our health are pretty straightforward — take this antibiotic, eat healthier fruits and vegetables, and get your teeth cleaned regularly. But for people looking into hospice care, the decisions they face are rarely simple and hardly ever easy.


Hospice care has become synonymous with end-of-life care and, while that is a common time for hospice, it’s really about comfort and dignity, not time frames. For people managing a terminal illness that no longer responds to treatment, hospice care can be the best path to a good quality of life. For those helping a loved one transition to hospice care, each situation depends on your family member or friend’s specific needs. However, there are some important basics you can wrap your brain around now in order to be more knowledgeable and helpful during their transition.



Know who will be on the hospice care team


Depending on your loved one’s illness, the hospice care team could be composed of one person or a whole team. It’s likely that your hospice team will have, at some point, a:


  •     Nurse or certified nursing assistant
  •   Social worker
  •     Home health aide
  •     Counselor
  •     Physical therapist
  •     Occupational therapist


Make an effort to get to know the people on the care team to help reduce any feelings of anxiety or embarrassment your loved one might feel having to be cared for in such a vulnerable state. Plus, building rapport means building trust, which makes it easier to feel comfortable with complex medical decisions.


Talk about end-of-life arrangements


People stay in hospice anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. In some cases, a person can be in hospice care for six months or more. If you haven’t already had a conversation about end-of-life arrangements, now is the time to do so. Talk to them about where they keep their important documents, like their will, insurance policies, deeds, assets and financial statements. If they need to update anything, like a living will or power of attorney, offer them support and guidance. If your loved one isn’t in a state to share this information with you, talk to family members and friends, or do an online search or look through personal belongings.



Explore holistic therapy options


Hospice care centers on comfort care, and while your care team is there to lead the charge, you may want to consider other, all-natural or holistic options. Many of those opportunities aren’t covered by Medicare but some are, so do your research. For example, if your loved one suffers from lower back pain, acupuncture is covered by Medicare and can help treat the pain. Depending on your loved one’s Medicare plan, they may also have access to wellness programs that can help provide relief and give them opportunities for mobility. Your loved one may also be covered for healthy food programs, which can make a holistic approach even more accessible through a proper diet. Contact your loved one’s insurance provider to see what specifically is covered.




Prioritize your loved one’s mental health


Both you and your loved one are facing a very challenging experience ahead. Emotions that may occur include mood swings and severe anxiety. Hospice care can help address these with counselors and medication, but being there for your friend or family member is the best way to help ease their mind and stabilize their mood. Mental health is key to a peaceful hospice experience for everyone involved. Caring for mental and emotional needs in yourself and your loved one can ease guilt, worry, anger and fear.


Making decisions about hospice care can be scary. The nature of our human condition is rooted in the here and now, which means we’re often scared or anxious when the future is unknown. That’s why understanding the basics of hospice care is a critical beginning step in this bittersweet journey.


Claire Wentz


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