The idea of entering hospice care can be a bit scary for those who haven’t had a lot of experience with this situation or level of care.
Some residents of Mt. Vernon and elsewhere may see the move initially as giving up, or as an acknowledgment of the reality that their loved one is really going to pass away soon.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice is used to answering these questions and discussing this level of uncertainty and concern in new patients and their families. We’re always happy to educate community members about some of the differences between traditional care and palliative care options like hospice care.
We know, as a home health care agency that has worked with many residents of Eastern Iowa, that hospice care can offer some things that traditional care doesn’t. Clients don’t have to follow the tight restrictions that they may have when they were under a traditional doctor’s care.
They are now surrounded by a community of dedicated and skilled nurses and other staff who want to make sure that they have a good quality of life rather than more testing and painful procedures. This can include access to pain medications and other comfort needs.
They’ll be offered all sorts of resources to get them through the next few weeks or months, everything from practical matters like encouragement to finalize any legal paperwork to people willing to have conversations about practically anything.
Certainly, hospice care isn’t a situation that people expected to be part of, but it does offer some opportunities for clients who want to approach the future with some level of dignity and lots of support.
Although clients may come to peace with their pending death and appreciative of the hospice care system, it can still be a stressful time for the people around them.
Family members and loved ones may already be grieving in their own way – they may not even realize it since it’s a common misconception that grief only shows up after a death. They also may feel overwhelmed by all the details that still need to be taken care of, which can include the emotional challenges of providing care. It can also mean thinking about everything that has to be done after their loved one passes away, from a funeral to additional legal paperwork.
At the same time, they may feel like they have to maintain a brave face, especially if other people around them are generally trying to be as positive as possible.
Grief and bereavement experts will assure you that it’s OK to feel bad sometimes. It’s also OK to take time to feel sadness, anger, or frustration – you may even find some solidarity if everyone cries together.
If you have a caregiver role, you also can help others find ways to handle what’s happening now or deal with other physical or mental concerns, including worries about what may or may not happen in the future.
Some common areas of stress include:
- Balance issues. A fall can be devastating mentally and physically. In seniors who already are in poor health, it could lead to lifestyle changes if bones are broken or a head injury occurs. Plus, many studies show that a bad fall will increase the risk of another bad fall. So this causes more anxiety for people to move around or go outside. You can help reduce these stresses by helping them walk, removing obstacles/tripping hazards, or finding better mobility devices like a cane or walker.
- Cheer/mood. Even someone generally upbeat about what’s happening may have moments where everything hits them at once. You don’t need to talk them out of it, since it’s a scary time, but they will appreciate you listening to them. There are always so many conflicting feelings at this time of someone’s life.
- Fear of the future. Someone may be stressed about what is or what isn’t ahead, metaphysically. They may also worry about what will happen to those they leave behind, like making sure their family stays well after they’re gone.
- Some people in hospice care may also be suffering from dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. Trying to remember recent and past details, or realizing you’ve forgotten some information, can also make someone feel worse. In some cases, where the brain is physically damaged from advanced dementia, they’re not going to remember some items. As a caregiver, you can provide them comfort, which they will appreciate, even if they can’t remember you.
- The medical condition that may have caused them to move into hospice care may still result in pain. They may find it difficult to move much.
In many of these situations, hospice staff can give advice to caregivers and to clients to reduce these stresses. Sometimes it can be easy as listening to them and reassuring them that what they’re feeling is completely normal.
They also can offer practical solutions such as tips on better balance and improved mobility as well as better pain management. They also can give info about other ways to reduce anxieties, including details about Stress Awareness Month, which takes place throughout April.