Extensive planning is necessary for those determined to help their loved ones die peacefully at home, health care reporter Susan Seliger writes for The New York Times’ blog on aging. Most Americans say they want to die say “at home” when asked, but both the patient and caregiver’s well being must be considered.
Investing in the right equipment and preparing documents may overwhelm some caregivers, and although professional help is available, each patient’s circumstances are different. Seliger has prepared a list of 12 tips to help them fulfill their final wishes.
Perhaps the most important consideration is making room for the bed. “A lot of people put the patient in a family room where there is more space, or the dining room if it’s closer to a bathroom,” said Dr. Stacie K. Levine, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at the University of Chicago. She also recommends putting the bed on the first floor of the home to prevent strenuous movements.
The pros and cons of using a hospital bed, Seliger says, should be carefully considered due to the emotional impact that sleeping apart from a spouse can bring. She advises patients with dementia or cancer who are not that mobile to choose a bed with an air compression mattress in order to to prevent bedsores.
Other suggestions are simple comfort adjustments, such as cushioning the patient’s favorite chair or buying earphones for the hearing impaired. Spring pressure adjustable curtains provide privacy.
Caregivers may also make use of hospice during the last stages of care. “A good hospice team not only helps the caregiver figure out a plan for care but arranges for Medicare approval and payment,” Seliger writes.
“The larger the hospice, usually the more services for the patient and caregiver,” said Dr. R. Sean Morrison, director of the National Palliative Care Research Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. ”Ask for their daily patient census – several hundred patients per day is a good size.”
“What I see that prevents people from being able to stay at home [to die] is not their medical needs but the needs of their caregiver — can the caregiver really help, are there resources to help, or is that person going to be overwhelmed?” Morrison told Seliger.
“Respite care” for the caregiver may help with overwhelming stress. Respite care pays for up to five days of patient care in a nearby medical facility so the caregiver can take a break or even go on a vacation, said Lori Mulligan, senior director of development marketing and community services at Gilchrist Hospice.
Still, hospice care remains underutilized. As LMM previously reported, 36 percent of hospice patients die or are discharged within seven days of treatment. Many others suffer more than they need to due to hospice enrollment policies. Hospice is most often used when curative treatment is no longer effective, and a terminal patient is expected to live about six months or less.
Despite the work, home deaths may be less traumatic than hospital deaths, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Some 300 adults with terminal cancer and the same number of caregivers were studied. Among the caregivers, those whose loved ones did not die at home were about five times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder after six months than those whose loved ones died at home.
Learn more about dying at home from WebMD.
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