A study performed by the Yale School of Medicine suggests that receiving hospice care earlier in your disease process can improve the quality of the end of your life. Right now, many people are admitted to hospice within a few hours or a few days of their deaths. These last-minute admissions are rarely helpful and may even cause the client unnecessary stress, since admission to hospice usually calls for a physical examination.
Meanwhile, there are many benefits to accepting hospice care when you become eligible for it — usually when your doctor estimates that you have six months or fewer to live and that you will not benefit from further curative treatment.
Easing Symptoms and Caregiving
One of the most important benefits of early admission to hospice is it gives you the chance to know and trust the hospice staff who will be providing your care – doctors, nurses, hospice aides, chaplains, social workers and volunteers, to name a few. If you have questions or need to talk to the staff about a sensitive issue, you will have a much easier time if you are already familiar with them.
Another reason to start hospice care early is to enlist physical assistance for your caregivers. Hospices have aides who can assist with personal care like baths, bed baths, showers and shampoos. They also provide comfort measures like back rubs, facial massages and painting your nails.
One of the chief reasons for early hospice care is symptom management. If you have a terminal illness, you may have many symptoms. The one most commonly discussed is pain. Others include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, depression and anxiety. The hospice team can work with you to help keep these symptoms under control. They may use medicine, art or music therapy, relaxation techniques and counseling. If the staff can help reduce or eliminate these symptoms, you will be able to enjoy the last part of your life with favorite activities as well as family and friends.
Providing Comfort and Emotional Support
Another service hospice providers offer is emotional support to you and to your family. The end of life can be a scary concept. You may wonder what to expect as death draws nearer. Your loved ones may wonder how they will get along without you. People face death in many different ways. You may want to talk about your feelings, or you may want to engage in other activities like playing chess or working puzzles. Finally, it can be comforting just to have someone sitting beside you without speaking.
With all these benefits available through early hospice care, one wonders why more qualified clients do not sign up earlier. One reason may be that some doctors are uncomfortable talking about death. They are told how to make patients live, but they are not taught how to prepare patients to die.
Sometimes the clients themselves refuse to be part of the hospice discussion. They may be afraid of dying or they may feel like signing up for hospice is somehow giving up on life. Oddly enough, this is untrue. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, a 2010 New England Journal of Medicine Study found that people who accepted hospice care lived about two months longer than patients who continued to receive aggressive care. It is also true that one in five patients admitted to hospice are discharged alive.
If you have a life-limiting illness that is causing physical or psychological distress, consider talking with your doctor about hospice. It may give you a better quality of life for many months and may even lengthen your life.