As our seniors age, we as caregivers see changes in their health and physical functioning. Sometimes the changes that we see can be frightening and it is scary looking into the future. Aging is inevitable. How we face the challenges of the aging process will help us to deal with things that may feel overwhelming.
Has your senior’s health declined to the point that it is time for you to consider end of life options?
Most of us want our seniors to remain comfortable no matter how well or ill they may be. Many of our seniors have expressed their wishes for their end of life care in documents such as The Five Wishes or a living will or a durable power of attorney or proxy for healthcare. In these documents, your senior has made it clear how the end of life medical care should be handled such does he want to be resuscitated, does she want a feeding tube, does he want mechanical ventilation or a breathing machine, does she want to stay in her home until the end, or does he want nature to take its course or have everything possible done?
You have choices in the care of your senior that will help you honor their wishes. The goal of various care options is to maintain comfort, staying as pain free as possible while also maintaining as much physical function for daily activities to preserve good quality of life as possible.
Palliative care allows you to help your senior stay comfortable in the face of serious illness, manage the symptoms your senior may have and reduce everyone’s stress-even your own. You can receive palliative care in your home or in a hospital. It begins with a referral from your doctor.
This healthcare approach tries to reduce your loved one’s suffering; it does not hasten or postpone death. You can receive palliative care while you are getting treatment for certain diseases including curative care but it also covers those who are nearing the end of life. Your healthcare team in palliative care includes doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other professionals who work together with you to create a plan of care that will meet your family’s needs. It offers support for both your loved one and your family members.
A recent World Health Organization statement describes palliative care as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”
There is a difference between hospice care and palliative care even though they share similar treatment goals for reducing suffering. Hospice care usually treats people with an end of life diagnosis who have six months or less to live. Palliative care often treats people who may be expected to recover or extend their life with a chronic disease as well as those who are nearing end of their life.
These decisions are very difficult, perhaps the most difficult you will ever have to face. Keep the lines of communication open with your senior, your family members, and your healthcare team. Consider all your options and educate yourself on the approach that will best meet all of your needs.
If you have experiences to share about palliative care, we would love to hear from you.