Learning about end of life care can sometimes be confusing, sad and even a little scary to residents of Manchester and elsewhere, especially if it’s the first time you’ve gone through the process.
However, the staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care are familiar with all the different facets of what happens at the end of someone’s life. They’re also experienced with what family members, friends, and other loved ones might be going through before, during and after someone’s life comes to a close.
As a provider of home health care and hospice services throughout Eastern Iowa, Above and Beyond Home Health Care knows that everyone’s experience might be a little different based on each person, their support system, their internal attitude and their health conditions.
But there are several common things that the staff is happy to share, based on what they’ve learned working with many families over the years.
- Professional care. Just because a person may move from traditional care to palliative or hospice care doesn’t mean the quality of care will change. Nurses and other medical professionals have the same basic skills, and most have received additional training in working with patients at the end of their lives. So on home visits, nurses will still perform the same procedures as they would if they went to a provider’s office, such as taking blood pressure and temperature. They will also continue to be in contact with any provider or caregiver to relay any condition information. Providers also may remove some restrictions where people should go and do. For instance, people with weak immune systems are sometimes discouraged from going to public places or eating certain foods during chemotherapy.
- Extra attention. Instead of just taking a clinical approach, many health care professionals understand that patients may want to talk and share more than patients not at the end of their lives, so they’re always available to pause and listen. There could be discussions about mortality and spirituality, plus practical questions about estates and arrangements. While not all of these answers will be known, health care professionals can still point people toward other area resources, everything from a local funeral home to a house of worship to a financial planner. But taking time to listen is important.
- Less pain. A big component of hospice and palliative care focuses on “quality of life” for patients. That means instead of lots of uncomfortable and painful testing and other medical procedures, the prime focus is on minimizing discomfort. This can include different medication management than they might have received earlier in life since there’s no worry about addiction, abuse or long-term damage.
- Attention to physical health. As their end of life approaches, a patient’s physical needs and condition may be different. They may not have as much of an appetite or thirst, and they may have changes in body temperature. They may be more susceptible to skin problems and may begin to exhibit different forms of breathing, such as greater congestion and deeper breaths. Some of these symptoms may show up a few weeks before death, sometimes only a few days.
- It doesn’t have to only be sad. Although feelings of sadness, loss, and regret are common, these aren’t the only emotions that people could be feeling. The end of life can also be a time for people to connect or re-connect with family members, friends, and loved ones. There can be some special, positive, even peaceful moments even if old friends simply get an opportunity to catch up, sit together and share time together.
- Some anxieties. Besides spiritual unknowns about what, if anything, will happen after death, some people nearing the end of their life will have specific and practical questions and requests. Like who will take care of their possessions, water their plants, walk their dogs, pay bills or similar thoughts. The National Institute on Aging said this could be an opportunity for people to assist, especially those who say “I want to do something to help but don’t know what.” Maybe a ‘can-do’ list can be created and people can help with different items – this will help provide reassurance to the patient.
- Possible mental changes. The final stages of life may lead to some unusual behavior, including confusion, hallucinations, or forgetting details. Providers say the best thing loved ones can do is be near the person – they don’t have to correct them if they believe someone from their past is nearby, especially if this hallucination is providing them with comfort and security. But if this confusion or what they’re seeing causes them to become restless or try to escape, then they may need a way to be calmed down.Overall, the only way to truly be ready for end of life care is to have gone through it with someone else, which is why it can be challenging for people who haven’t experienced major losses. But employees at Above and Beyond Home Health Care are always happy to provide advice and resources at this time.