Most people prefer to lead a purpose-driven life. Frequently, this means setting goals. A diagnosis with a terminal illness may radically alter the life goals of the patient and their family. However, that does not mean that goals must be entirely set aside.
Instead, it is valuable to reflect on the main goal of hospice care, and to use hospice goals as a framework for making end-of-life plans. Before further exploring the purpose of hospice, it is necessary to define hospice care.
What Is Hospice Care?
Hospice is a specialized set of services that is reserved for people who have been diagnosed with a condition or illness that is terminal. Generally, a patient with a prognosis of six months or fewer is considered eligible for hospice when two doctors concur on the timeline if the condition follows its usual course.
A patient receiving hospice is no longer undergoing curative treatments. This is because the patient’s doctors recognize that such treatments are no longer efficacious and may actually be causing the patient pain and discomfort.
Typically, hospice services are provided in the patient’s home, wherever that may be. This ensures the greatest comfort and convenience for the patient. While under the care of hospice professionals, patients receive a range of services. The precise nature of these services may change as the patient’s condition evolves.
Hospice patients may receive assistance with daily living activities like eating, bathing and toileting. Help with mobility issues, pain and other discomfort also is addressed. Hospice professionals further recognize the mental and emotional stress that people who are dealing with a life-threatening condition must endure. Accordingly, emotional and spiritual support is provided. These services extend to caregivers, who similarly may need relief from the strain of their daily routine.
What Is the Goal of Hospice Care?
The main purpose of hospice care is to ensure patient comfort. This is a broad definition that actually encompasses numerous factors. That’s because the goal of hospice care is quite flexible. What works for one patient may not be the best approach for another. This is why the patient and their caregiver regularly interact with hospice professionals, so that a customized approach can be utilized.
Several hospice goals are described in greater detail below. Each one may be more or less important to a particular patient. With open communication between the patient, caregivers and hospice personnel, it is possible for patients to live meaningfully until the end of their life.
1. Pain and Symptom Management
Patient comfort is directly tied to this purpose of hospice. If pain and other distressing symptoms of the patient’s condition are not being addressed, then it is impossible for the patient to achieve any of their other goals. Accordingly, hospice personnel usually emphasize this goal above all others. Achieving this goal typically involves the administration of prescription medication therapy management, but it may include therapies like massage, gentle exercise and anything else that helps the patient cope with their condition.
2. Medical Care
Patients with terminal illnesses still need a broad range of medical care. This can include changing bandages, catheters and other necessary equipment. Dietary counseling is another critical component of ongoing medical care, as is possible in-patient care if an emergency arises.
This difficult time of transition takes a toll on the patient’s mental and emotional health. Mental health services help to alleviate this stress, enabling patients to keep a more positive outlook. Caregivers also may be eligible to receive counseling services, which may help to avoid the burnout that often accompanies caring for an ailing loved one.
4. Personal Care
Many people who are diagnosed with a terminal illness must deal with mobility issues and other symptoms that may make everyday tasks difficult. These patients can benefit from having hospice professionals or in home personal care assistants help them with personal care. From bathing and haircuts to eating and dressing, these services help the patient to feel more like themselves and more in control of their situation.
5. Education About End-of-Life
Patients receiving hospice services still have many choices to make about the care they receive and other practical matters. Hospice professionals will review important documents like advance health care directives with the patient. These directives make the patient’s wishes known to health care providers and family members in the event of a medical crisis. It further may be sensible to appoint a caregiver or family member to coordinate end-of-life practicalities. Thinking about these things rarely is pleasant. However, some people draw comfort from knowing that their wishes will be honored and that their family will not be burdened by having to make these decisions themselves.
6. Caregiver Education and Training
Being a caregiver can be exceptionally stressful. This is especially true for caregivers who have no medical training. Fortunately, education and training for caregivers is a part of hospice services.
Many family caregivers begin by doing some laundry, picking up groceries or cleaning the patient’s house. However, as the patient’s condition deteriorates, the caregiver finds themselves adopting an increasingly complex role, one that may involve medications and home therapies.
Hospice services provide the guidance that caregivers need, helping them to define their role and perform it more efficiently. The result is less frustration and better care being provided to the patient. Education and training may relate to the patient’s condition and how it may evolve over time. Caregivers also learn about how to make everyday tasks easier so as to avoid physical and emotional strain.
7. Emotional Counseling and Grief Support
Both the patient and their main caregivers may be in need of emotional counseling and grief support. Fortunately, this therapy is available, and the services continue after the passing of the patient. This provides the caregiver with the support they need to make the transition away from being a caregiver and to deal with their loss.
8. Interfaith Spiritual Comfort
Regardless of religious affiliation, spiritual faith can be an enormous source of comfort to patients and caregivers. Interfaith spiritual comfort is provided by knowledgeable hospice professionals who recognize the value of belief in a higher power.