Quality care at the final stages of life is about a person’s daily and physical well-being and emotional and spiritual needs. Learn what you should expect when caring for someone nearing the end of their life.
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The best practices in end of life care
You’ll hear the terms “palliative” and “hospice” if a friend or relative has a life-limiting disease or is close to death.
Palliative care provides care that helps ease pain and maintain a high quality of life for patients undergoing treatment for serious illnesses such as cancer. Palliative care can be started early in the treatment process and continued after completion.
Hospice care is for someone about to die and has stopped taking anti-inflammatory drugs. Hospice care services can be used to coordinate family and professional caregiving and monitor end of life care needs. These services can be provided at home, assisted-living homes, nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice-care facilities.
Hospice and palliative care are dependent on a team that includes people from different specialties.
- Home health aids
- Counselors or social workers
- Clergy and other spiritual advisors
The hospice and palliative care teams can help you set treatment goals and guide your decisions. These decisions are made to honor the wishes and maximize the quality of life of the dying person and support their family. These issues could include:
- When and how to stop taking your disease treatment
- When is it time to take out life-support devices such as ventilators or dialysis machines?
- Hospice care: Where can I get it?
- Care for the dying person: What support does the family need?
- What is the best way to allow the dying person to spend quality family time?
- Family members, friends and loved ones are asked to provide emotional and spiritual support for the person in the final stages of their lives.
Research shows that this person-centered approach to care improves the quality and quantity of people’s last days.
When they realize that their life is ending, people may think about their beliefs, values and faith. People who know they are near the end of their lives may be unsure how they will be remembered or consider forgiveness or being forgiven by others. Some people may be conflicted about their religion or faith.
If the person is dying, you can listen to them and ask them open-ended questions. You could read, sing together or participate in a religious tradition that the person is passionate about. An individual in the final stages of life may find comfort in knowing why you love them and how you will remember them.
Supporting your emotional needs
An individual nearing the end may feel distressed or have conflicting emotions. Listening and being present can help you provide emotional support. You can soothe and comfort others by your physical presence, whether sitting still or holding hands.
It is possible to arrange visits with the dying person for a final goodbye or share memories. You can also arrange calls or send messages to those who cannot visit.
A calm environment, with low lighting and soothing music can help to improve mood and relax.
Recognizing when death may be near
It is difficult to predict when someone will die. However, some common indicators could indicate the end of life. These signs could include:
- A feeling of restlessness, confusion, or agitation
- Increased sleep, or prolonged periods of drowsiness
- Appetite loss
- Breathing difficulties or pauses
- Blue coloring, swelling or coldness in the feet or hands
- There have been reports of people seeing someone who is already dead.
- You can hear your breathing making crackling or gurgling sounds.