Contact Hospice sooner rather than later

April 22, 2011|Hospice Helps

"I only wish we had called hospice sooner. I didn't realize they could support us much earlier than I called them."  

This familiar regret is often voiced by families who have experienced the support of the hospice team.

One prevalent misconception of hospice is that care is only available to support those who have just a few days or even a few hours of life. Hospice aids and comforts patients and their families during the end of life.

In truth, hospice care is best used earlier — when the physician first tells a patient that time is limited.

Hospice support is most effective when the care-giving team can support the patient and family while they adjust to the many challenges and changes that occur over the last crucial months.

Marnie had battled her illness tirelessly for more than 10 years and hoped to finally resume her normal life after her last series of treatments. When her physician said the treatments had been ineffective and no further options were available, her world crashed.  

Not only were her hopes crushed, but she dreaded facing her family and friends who would also be devastated. In the meantime, she realized she was still able to continue doing most of her routine activities and only felt a bit tired. Her physician mentioned calling hospice. But she didn't need them yet, did she?  

Marnie's thoughts were typical of someone who thinks that hospice is helpful only for the last few days. Calling hospice as soon as Marnie received the terminal diagnosis was exactly what would give her the best care during the challenges of the upcoming months.  

The nursing team could help control pain so the remaining months could be focused on living fully, less consumed by the discomfort of the disease.

The hospice social worker could help Marnie focus on wrapping up her affairs, how to prepare her family and friends, and how to complete what was most important to her.  

The chaplain could help Marnie prepare spiritually to answer deeply personal questions.

Having her personal team could help relieve the day-to-day pressures of physical care giving, allowing Marlie's family time to nurture and enjoy each other.  

In addition, her family could have begun the journey of coping with their loss.  By waiting until the crisis of the final days or hours to contact Hospice, Marnie could miss the calmness that comes from controlling symptoms, and understanding and completing those things most dear to her.  

The average length of time a patient is served by hospice is 30 days; however, studies have shown that those who enter hospice care earlier often live longer with their diagnosis than those who wait until death is imminent.  

Just like Marnie, her family and others like them, those patients and families who choose to use hospice early report a better quality of life than those who wait to enter hospice.

Shelley J Steiner is marketing and community director for Hospice of Washington County.

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