Palliative and Hospice Care: Support for patients and their loved-ones
Posted on January 7, 2021 by Elder Care Consultants, Inc.
I will outline two types of important services, palliative medicine and hospice care, that help patients experiencing pain, discomfort, and emotional reactions stemming from injuries or short-term, chronic, life-limiting, or terminal illnesses. When these symptoms are relieved, patients’ lives are improved. Moreover, as patients reach the end of their lives, addressing their physical and emotional discomfort to the extent possible can help ease the end-of-life process for them and their loved-ones.
Palliative Medicine is specialized medical and psychosocial treatment for relief from debilitating symptoms no matter the patient’s diagnosis, or age. Patients may be undergoing concurrent surgical, chemical, radiological treatments or physical therapy. Palliative physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, and spiritual advisors can help. Practitioners are trained in a wide variety of interventions such as medication review and changes, therapeutic massage, meditation and other relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, to name just a few. For the greatest benefit these specialists could be utilized sooner and more frequently. Patients or their physicians can request a consultation with a palliative specialist whether at home, hospital, nursing home, or assisted or independent living.
Hospice Care. When patients, their loved ones, and physicians determine that curative treatments are no longer the goal, palliative treatment can be broadened to include hospice services. Hospice teams include specially trained physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, home health aides, spiritual advisors, and volunteers. Hospice teams provide comprehensive supportive care to the patient and their loved ones during the patient’s life and bereavement services before and after the patient’s death.
The hospice team can mobilize quickly to provide the medicines necessary for comfort care and equipment such as hospital beds, oxygen, wheelchairs and the like. It is often a great comfort to know that there is no need to bring the patient to service providers. Nurses, who oversee the care in consultation with the physicians, visit the patient wherever he/she is living. When the patient is cared for at home, loved-ones don’t feel so alone with a hospice team in place. They can call the hospice – day or night – to get assistance or in-home visits for relief from symptoms as they arise.
A common misconception is that when patients begin hospice services, death is imminent and treatment ends. Instead, treatments are focused on comfort care rather than curative care.
Hospice services are most helpful when begun months before a patient’s expected death. If services are begun too late, the team cannot be as effective as they could be. Patients and families may be fearful or reluctant to use hospice services. But a no-obligation consultation from a hospice service provider can address those concerns.
Patients who qualify for hospice care have a life expectancy of not more than six months, though sometimes patients become well enough to opt-out or be discharged from hospice. Often the hospice service can be extended after the initial six-month period if it is likely that the person’s life expectancy remains about six months. Services may be provided at home, independent and assisted living communities, nursing homes, or specialized hospice care facilities by both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations. Hospice services are covered by Medicare (Part A) and most Medicaid and private insurance plans.
Sorting through the options throughout this continuum of care can be confusing, even overwhelming. When to request a consultation? When to initiate services? What to expect? The care managers at Elder Care Consultants (www.eldercc.com) are well-prepared to answer your questions and help arrange for an individualized care plan that includes comfort and support along the way.