When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal condition, it’s normal to be confused, shell-shocked, or even scared. Talking to a physician about your uncertainties and concerns can help—knowledge can grant a certain level of peace of mind. By learning more about the diagnosis and recommended treatment plan, you also have the opportunity to take an active role in planning for your loved one’s care. While discussing end of life care is never easy, you’ll likely feel better knowing that you’re doing what’s best for your loved one. Ask some of the following important questions and open the line of communication.
1. What is the specific name of the condition?
One of the first things you should discuss with your loved one’s physician is the exact nature of the condition and its severity. You may have specific questions about the condition such as what body system it affects and what causes it. For a terminal illness like cancer, you may want to ask what stage your loved one is in and what you can expect during each stage going forward. Having this knowledge can give you better insight about the best course of treatment and provide you with crucial information so that you can continue researching the condition on your own.
2. Does the condition move quickly or gradually?
Depending on the terminal condition, your loved one may have a medical condition that is fast or slow moving. Learning where the problem is located in the body and whether or not it has spread can help you determine how much time your loved one has left. Remember that a physician can only estimate your loved one’s life expectancy. He or she will usually look at several diagnostic tests to determine the severity of the terminal condition, how it’s affecting the body, and at what rate.
3. What treatment options are available?
When your loved one is faced with a diagnosis of a terminal condition, you want to do everything in your power to make it go away. While it may not be possible to cure the condition, there may be treatments available to better manage symptoms. Ask the physician about possible treatment options or combination of treatments. You may also want to learn the expected timeline of treatments, how they will affect your loved one’s daily life, and if they are likely to cause any serious side effects. You may also want to ask about clinical trials.
4. What happens if treatment doesn’t work?
There’s always a possibility that the chosen treatment plan doesn’t work. When this happens, having a backup plan can provide both you and your loved one with a bit of comfort knowing you have other options. Ask the physician about the next step if the treatment plan doesn’t work as expected. Even if your loved one’s choice of contemporary medicine treatments are limited, there may be certain lifestyle changes that can aid in pain management, such as changes in diet and exercise.
5. What side effects will be experienced?
In addition to the actual condition causing unpleasant symptoms, the treatments that your loved one chooses to undergo may also cause a host of symptoms. Knowing what symptoms to expect can help you better manage them before they worsen. Ask the physician what your loved one can expect in terms of side effects in both the short term and long term. You can also ask if there are any ways to prevent side effects.
6. Who will be involved with care?
Your loved one’s health care team should consist of a variety of professionals, including physicians, nurses, specialists, therapists, religious supporters, and palliative care or hospice providers. Together, these professionals should provide your loved one with all of his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Learn how role each member of the team plays a role in your loved one’s end of life care and how you can play a part in providing care and companionship. While every member of your loved one’s healthcare team is important, you’ll want to find out who is in charge of the treatment plan and maintain regular communication.
7. What is palliative care and how does it help?
Many patients facing a terminal condition turn to palliative care to improve their quality of life. Palliative care focuses on providing the patient with relief from symptoms and the stress associated with a terminal condition. This unique care approach is provided by a specially-trained team of physicians, nurses, and other specialists who work together to provide the patient and his or her family with additional support. Talk to the physician about whether your loved one could benefit from palliative care and when it’s best to get started.
8. When should we start thinking about hospice?
Hospice is a specialized set of services offered to patients with life-limiting illnesses, their caregivers, and their families. While both hospice and palliative care provide comfort to the patient, hospice care only begins after treatment of the disease is stopped and when it becomes clear that the patient is not going to survive their illness. Ask the physician when you should seek hospice care and how it can benefit your loved one. Hospice care can address the patient’s physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs, as well as help family members cope with their loved one’s terminal condition.
Finding out that your loved one has a terminal condition can be shocking for everyone involved. However, as a family member or close friend, you want the best for your loved one. Asking a physician questions about your loved one’s terminal condition can give you better insight of what you can expect to occur in the upcoming weeks or months and what you can do to ensure that the patient receives the very best of care. To learn more about hospice care and how it can improve the quality of your loved one’s end of life, contact Harbor Light Hospice today.