Hospice Help for the Final Days
Hospice care plays an important role in improving the quality of life for patients and their families—in many cases making it possible for a patient to spend their remaining time in the home where they want to be. But as a patient approaches their very last days, the hospice team’s focus shifts from managing the patient’s illness to helping family members navigate an often disorienting experience, enabling them to enjoy their final moments together.
Facing the death of a loved one is always emotional. But it doesn’t have to be scary. As death draws near, a patient’s hospice team brings the compassion, skill and knowledge needed to reassure and support the family through the process. Typically, the Delaware Hospice team’s role in the final days includes:
Explaining what’s happening.
During the last days of life, certain physical processes occur that often frighten and confuse onlookers. The patient may begin constantly moving around in their bed, making noises from their throat, or experiencing long pauses in their breathing. Even when these symptoms present no discomfort to the patient, the distress they cause to families interferes with the family’s ability to enjoy their precious last moments with their loved one.
By explaining the final symptoms and preparing families for their onset, the patient’s hospice nurse alleviates a great deal of fear so they can focus on the patient and on their positive memories—instead of on the symptoms.
Managing final symptoms.
The hospice nurse assures the patient’s comfort and makes any medication adjustments needed to manage problematic symptoms that occur in the final stages. A certified nursing assistant or a volunteer often helps with tasks like keeping the patient clean and picking up medicines to lighten the family’s caregiver role.
Providing daily support to the family.
The patient’s hospice nurse visits or calls the family on a daily basis to check in, while other team members make regular visits to support the family as well. As symptoms change, the nursing staff shows the family how to handle different situations and how to make their loved one comfortable. The patient’s hospice nurse, the chaplain, and others on the team provide ongoing emotional support as they accompany the family on this final journey, helping them arrive at the other side as best they can.
Coordinating practical details.
In many cases, a patient’s hospice nurse comes to make the final pronouncement of death. The nurse completes forms for the death certificate, and coordinates other practical details as the family wishes, including contacting the funeral home and bathing the patient. The nurse usually sits with the family, listening and offering comfort until the funeral home arrives. The hospice team also coordinates the removal of any medical equipment from the home, as its lingering presence often further upsets the family.
Connecting the family with bereavement support.
After a patient has passed, the hospice nurse connects the family with the bereavement counselors, who offer support over the next year in a variety of formats, from bereavement groups to individual counseling. The nurse typically connects families with children with Delaware Hospice’s New Hope program well in advance of the death so children can receive special grief support.
There’s a common misconception that hospice care is about death. But ask any of Delaware Hospice’s team members, and they’ll tell you that hospice care is really about life. It’s about making the remaining time a family has together the best it can possibly be. They consider it the highest privilege and responsibility to accompany families on their journey through this passing, from grief to healing—and this sense of mission brings hope to every family they touch.