The end of life is a natural event that no one can prevent nor postpone when it is time. Eventually, your loved ones will get old and reach their final hours. However, this does not mean that one should forgo the need to seek quality care and support when the inevitable comes.
In fact, when death is nearing, it becomes even more vital for an individual to receive palliative care to provide them with the utmost comfort and dignity they deserve. After all, everyone is entitled to a comfortable and quality life, regardless of one’s condition and state.
Read on below to learn more about end of life care and how it can benefit the patient and their families, especially during one’s final days.
What is end of life care?
End of life care refers to the overall care and support provided to a person nearing the end of their life. Its main focus is to help the patient live as well and comfortable as possible until their final breath. Furthermore, it aims to improve one’s quality of life despite being in their last days, months, or years.
End of life services involve different kinds of physical, mental, social, and spiritual assistance. This type of care may look different for each patient since everyone has different needs, wishes, and end of life preferences.
For example, some patients may opt to spend their final days at a hospice facility to receive the medical attention they need to ease their pain and other symptoms. In contrast, others may choose to receive their end of life care at home to spend their remaining time with loved ones.
Generally, hospice care is provided by a team of healthcare and hospice professionals. These experts will help patients and families during this challenging phase of their life. A hospice team usually consists of the following professionals:
- Registered Nurses
- Medical Directors
- Certified Hospice Aids
- Social Workers
- Bereavement Counselors
- Therapy Services
When is it time for end of life care?
Doctors recommend end of life care to a person whose death is imminent or likely to die within the next 12 months. However, there are times when patients only start end of life support when they are already expected to pass within the next few hours or days.
End of life care should begin as soon as your loved one’s condition requires it or when their healthcare provider sees the need for it. Generally, patients who seek end of life care are those diagnosed with a terminal illness or incurable disease. Additionally, people with life-limiting conditions, frail stature, or life-threatening diseases may also opt to receive this type of support.
If you have a loved one with such conditions, it’s normal to want to know the right time to seek end of life care for them. So, here are some telltale signs that may indicate that the end is near and that your loved one should consider receiving end of life care.
Terminal Illness/Life-Limiting Condition
The majority of the patients who seek and receive hospice services, palliative support, and end of life care are those with incurable diseases and terminal illnesses, such as cancer. Learn more about other common hospice diagnosis.
Drastic Weight and Appetite Loss
Loss of appetite is a natural and normal phenomenon for someone who only has a few days or hours to live. This occurs as the body gradually slows down its metabolism, thus losing the need to crave calories and nutrition. Furthermore, the body will also experience a decrease in thirst since it’s already preparing for a system shut down.
As a result, you may observe a drastic loss of weight, physical mass, and energy in your loved one. Remember, these things can happen regardless of one’s type or severity of illness.
Difficulty in Mobility and Performing Normal Tasks
Fatigue or extreme tiredness is also a common end of life sign, which can cause an individual to find it difficult to move and perform day-to-day tasks.
This type of fatigue experienced by patients nearing their end of life may be the result of one or a combination of factors, such as:
- Loss of appetite and energy, which leads to constant tiredness.
- A side effect of their medications (e.g., chemotherapy for cancer patients).
- A symptom of their chronic condition.
Rapid Decline in Cognitive Skills and Mental Capacity
Another sign that may indicate that your loved one only has a few days to live is the decline in their mental well-being. Some examples include the following:
- Confusion – no sense of time and place and may not recognize certain people.
- Delirium – disorientation due to little oxygen getting into the brain.
- Hallucinations – they may sometimes imagine or see things that are not there.
- Increased anxiety – this may also manifest as agitation and restlessness.
- Communication difficulties.
Additionally, patients facing imminent death can also become socially withdrawn due to their declining mental capacity.
Worsening Disease Symptoms
Lastly, loved ones will notice a general worsening of their symptoms and conditions. For example, the patient may experience more pain than usual or increased labored breathing.
End of Life: Providing Physical Comfort
As discussed above, a dying person can experience several physical side effects, sometimes all at once. These physical symptoms may stem from different factors such as the condition itself, medical complications, or medication side effects. Some of the most common physical discomforts include:
- Worsening pain
- Breathing problems
- Constipation or loose bowel movements
- Urinary incontinence
- Nausea and vomiting
- Congestion and other digestive problems
- Skin irritation
Struggling with these physical symptoms can make your loved one irritable, uncomfortable, and unhappy. But one way to end their suffering is to seek the palliative services of end of life care.
A team of healthcare professionals and hospice aides can help ease the physical discomfort of your loved one through different services. For example, they can provide pain medications, oxygen support, ointments, and anti-nausea drugs to ward off their physical symptoms. They may also tap other specialists (e.g., physical therapists, nutritionists) to help improve your loved one’s quality of life even in their last days.
End of Life: Supporting Emotional Need
On top of being diagnosed with a chronic illness, knowing that your days are numbered can take a toll on someone’s mental and emotional health. It will be a whirlwind of emotions between fear, anger, grief, depression, and guilt.
So, it’s up to the family members and palliative care team to help patients cope during this stressful time. Some of the ways to show mental and emotional care and support to your loved one include the following:
- Spend time with your loved one. Your physical presence alone lets them know that they’re not alone in this fight. But you should still maintain boundaries and let them have their private moments.
- Listen actively. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and worries. But don’t push them to open up; let them do it at their own pace. Once they do, remember to acknowledge their feelings and let them know that these are valid.
- Arrange for specific activities that they love, such as going to the beach or just sitting on the porch. You can also invite other family members but make sure to get consent from your patient’s loved one first.
- Improve their mood by creating a calm and healthy environment. For example, you can play soothing music or give them a foot massage before bedtime.
Family members may also seek emotional help from their loved one’s care team. Professionals like psychologists and counselors know how to help patients explore their emotions and find healthy ways to cope and manage them.
End of Life: Supporting Spiritual Need
Nearing the end of life’s journey can change how a person perceives their spirituality. The meaning of life, faith, beliefs, and values become more significant for a person with a terminal or end-stage disease.
You can help your loved ones express their spiritual concerns by talking to them about them. Remember, spiritual needs may look different for everybody. For some, it may involve religious gatherings and services. But for others, it may mean repairing broken relationships, seeking forgiveness, and spending time with the people important to them.
Let your loved ones know that you’re open to conversing and helping them fulfill their spiritual needs. You can also seek help from your chosen hospice or end of life care facility for help in this matter. They have chaplains and spiritual care coordinators to help your loved ones become more comfortable expressing their spirituality.
Is End of Life Planning Necessary?
Late-stage care of a loved one is a challenging journey for many family caregivers. You’ll be dealing with your loved one’s daily care on top of the difficult end-of-life decisions and hard choices. So to make everything a little bit easier, it’s essential to plan out your loved one’s end-of-life care, preferably with them.
Encourage your loved ones to talk about their preferences and choices regarding their care. Let them know that they have complete autonomy in their end of life care and that you’ll support their decision every step of the way. Here are some helpful steps that can help you and your loved one in their end of life planning:
- Care and placement options – plan ahead about your loved one’s preferences regarding their care options, placement, and treatment. Talk about it early on while your loved ones can still decide for themselves.
- Make advanced directives – this refers to the type of medical care and treatment your loved one wants. Some may choose to continue curative treatments, while others may opt to enter hospice services.
- Financial and legal planning – help your loved one get their financial and estate affairs in order, such as power attorney and last will.
- Communicate with family members – inform close family members about your loved one’s end-of-life decisions, so everyone is on the same page.
- Organize personal matters – help your loved ones plan their personal matters, such as having a gathering with friends while they still can, giving out personal belongings to grandkids, or making funeral requests.
End of Life Care and Support at Cardinal Hospice
Comfort and dignity will become a significant matter for your loved ones during their last days. Make sure they achieve these things by finding the best facility that provides end-of-life support, such as Cardinal Hospice.
At Cardinal Hospice, we specialize in providing the highest quality of care possible to improve our patients’ quality of life. We offer four levels of care to support the different needs and preferences of our patients and their families.