For anyone diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, the options for medical care may seem overwhelming. This is particularly true if curative medical treatments are no longer working, or if the symptoms of the illness have become unmanageable. In these situations, patients and their loved ones may want to consider enrolling in hospice care.
Hospice care is a type of treatment available to those facing a life-limiting illness, with a prognosis of six months to live or less. It is designed to help improve a patient’s quality of life rather than to treat an illness; the focus in hospice care is providing pain relief, comfort, and emotional support.
Hospice care comes to a patient, whether they are at home or in a facility, and involves an interdisciplinary team of providers. This may include physicians, nurses, social workers, and those who offer spiritual guidance. Together, they provide support and care for a person who has a life-limiting illness. The hospice staff will also provide much-needed respite and assistance to caregivers, including family and friends.
When Is It Time To Consider Hospice Care?
Making the decision to enroll in hospice care can be incredibly difficult, as the issues involved are sensitive. As a general matter, unless a person has granted power of attorney to another, the choice to enroll in hospice care is made by the patient. Typically, this decision is made after consultation with loved ones, including caregivers and medical providers.
There is no one answer about when an individual should enroll in hospice care. However, there are some signs that a person should consider hospice care.
Curative Treatments Are No Longer Working
For many life-limiting illnesses, treatments are available to attempt to cure the illness or provide relief from its symptoms. In some cases, however, these treatments stop working, and it becomes clear to the patient, his or her loved ones, and medical providers that a cure is not possible. In these situations, it may be time to consider hospice care.
Many serious illnesses are treatable. However, there are situations where curing a life-limiting illness is simply not possible, despite the best efforts of medical professionals. This may result in the patient feeling worse due to the side effects of treatment — with no hope of getting better. In these cases, patients may contemplate enrolling in hospice care.
Hospice care does not mean stopping all medical treatment; patients can still receive care and medication for pain management and to control symptoms of the illness. But, rather than trying to cure the illness, the focus is on providing physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort and support. The patient’s quality of life is emphasized so that they can live as full of a life as possible in whatever time remains for them.
If treatment for a life-limiting illness is no longer working, it may be time to consider enrolling in hospice care. It is available for patients with a prognosis of six months or less who have elected to no longer receive curative medical treatment. In many cases, it is paid in full or part by Medicare, Medicaid, or through private insurance.
The Pain Is Overwhelming
For many people with life-limiting illnesses, management of both pain and the side effects of treatment is critically important. At times, the pain and side effects from the illness and its treatment are too much to bear. In those situations, it may be appropriate to think about enrolling in hospice care.
Someone suffering from difficulty breathing, even at rest or with increased oxygen levels, or someone that has wounds that are not hearing, trouble sleeping due to pain, or pain that is poorly controlled, may find some relief in hospice care. In addition, those who are struggling with excessive sleeping throughout the day, unplanned weight loss, excessive problems with their legs and ankles infections, or loss of appetitive might find that hospice care can help with these symptoms to enhance quality of life.
Unlike most traditional medical treatments, hospice care focuses on keeping a patient comfortable by addressing pain and other symptoms as quickly and efficiently as possible. In this way, patients do not have to wait until their pain is severe or unmanageable to receive medication; instead, the goal is to try to prevent the patient from ever being in severe pain. This is a significant advantage of hospice care over other types of treatment, as patients can spend their final days as pain-free as possible.
Hospice staff will also work collaboratively with the patient to determine the best way to administer medication and other treatments for pain and symptoms of the life-limiting illness. There may be different ways to use conventional medications or to provide therapies that enhance the comfort and well-being of the patient. Hospice care will explore new techniques to find a method that works best for the patient.
For many patients with life-limiting illnesses, when pain or other symptoms becomes overwhelming, it may be time to think about hospice care. A team of medical and spiritual support staff will work to ease these symptoms and to ensure that life is more comfortable during the final months.
Changing the Focus to Quality of Life
Treatment for life-limiting illness can be incredibly painful and lead to side effects that may severely impact the ability to live life fully. These treatments may require extended stays in the hospital, or leave a patient bedridden because the after-effects of the medication or therapy are so extreme. In these cases, some patients may decide that it is more important to them that they have a better quality of life for whatever time they have remaining. A decision that treatment for a life-limiting illness is no longer a viable option, may mean hospice care is a viable option to enhance quality of life. Enrolling in hospice can help patients have as full and comfortable a life as possible during the final months of their illness.
Hospice workers will ensure that a home is accessible, and that needs are met in the current environment, whether that is home, a hospice community, or another long-term or skilled care facility. This may involve providing a portable oxygen tank, a hospital bed, or other aids to help with retention of as much comfort and mobility as possible. Hospice staff can also make sure that patients have the appropriate medications, services, and supplies to help maintain dignity.
By enrolling in hospice care, a patient is making an affirmative choice to cease curative medical treatment. Doing so may eliminate many of the side effects of treatment and allow the patient to focus on pain management and staying comfortable. When a patient is not experiencing overwhelming pain or the effects of harsh medications and therapies, he or she may be better able to enjoy life. This time can then be spent doing activities that the patient loves, whether it is spending time with family or friends, going outside to be in nature, or anything else that the patient is capable of doing.
When a patient has a life-limiting illness, having a high quality of life is often a priority for whatever time remains for that person. For those patients who have spent time undergoing painful treatments, having comfort and support in the remaining months is incredibly important. If it is time to change the focus to enhancing quality of life after being diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, it may also be time to consider hospice care.
Loved Ones Require Support
When a patient has a life-limiting illness, the impact on friends and family can be tremendous. In many cases, the patient is cared for by loved ones (such as friends and family) when he or she is not at a hospital or other treatment facility. While these caregivers want to provide care and support, it can often be incredibly difficult for them emotionally and physically. For those patients with a prognosis of six months to live or less, hospice care may be an option that provides respite and consolation during what can be a challenging time.
Hospice care services offer respite for caregivers. This can come in different forms, such as caring for the patient in a facility, including a hospice house, hospital, or nursing home for up to five days at a time. For those patients who wish to remain in their own homes, hospice staff may be available 24 hours a day to provide support. Medical professionals can make visits to provide pain relief, medication, or other services. Home health aides can assist with a patient’s personal hygiene and care and improve the comfort level of the patient. These services are particularly crucial to allow the patient to maintain dignity, so that family and friends are not required to take on these tasks for the patient.
In addition to physical support, hospice care staff also provides emotional and spiritual care for both the patient and their loved ones. This may include counseling from a social worker, chaplain, or spiritual guide, including bereavement services after the patient has passed. Hospice may also be able to ease some of the financial burden of caring for a patient with a life-limiting illness, through providing medication, equipment, supplies, and professional services that are often covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance.
While the ultimate choice to enroll in hospice must be made by the patient, an individual considering hospice may also take the needs of family and friends into account. If a patient has a life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less, hospice care may be a good option to help improve quality of life, manage pain and symptoms, and provide respite and support for loved ones.
Finding the Right Hospice Care
If it is time to consider hospice care, carefully review the options available to find a provider that best meets required physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. At Harbor Light Hospice, our philosophy of care focuses on promoting dignity and quality of life. Contact us today to learn how our services may benefit you or a loved one.