No one wants to think about losing a loved one. For the caregivers of terminally ill patients, however, it is not a matter of if but when. When curative treatment is no longer an option, it is time to start thinking about how to make your loved one as comfortable as possible for their remaining days. It is time to start thinking about hospice care.
Every patient’s journey is unique, but there are certain signs of end of life caregivers and family should look for to determine when to consider hospice. Hospice care is all about improving quality of life for both the patient and family, so make sure you give yourself and your loved one ample time to enjoy these benefits. Learn how to identify end of life signs so you and your loved one can make important decisions regarding hospice care.
Physical Signs of End of Life
When a terminally ill patient starts to decline in health and curative treatment is no longer an option, that is when to consider hospice. Because terminal diseases are so varied, it is best to consider common end of life signs as an indication that it is time to start hospice.
Here are some of the top physical signs of end of life:
- Frequent or recurring infections
- Rapid decline in health despite aggressive medical treatment
- Frequent hospitalizations or trips to the emergency room
- Uncontrolled pain, nausea, or vomiting
- Increase in the amount of time spent sleeping
- Loss of urinary or bowel control
- Chest congestion and/or rapid breathing
- Decrease in food and fluid intake
- Changes in body temperature (fever or feeling cool to the touch)
- Restlessness or repetitive motions
- Inability to perform daily tasks without assistance
Physical end of life signs are fairly straightforward and easy to identify, but they are not the only signs to consider. You should also look for changes in mental and emotional health.
Mental and Emotional End of Life Signs
Enduring a terminal illness takes its toll on the body, but the effects go much deeper than the physical level — they can also impact mental and emotional health. When your loved one starts to show certain end of life signs, it is time to consider hospice.
Here are some of the most common mental and emotional end of life signs:
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and loved ones
- Making statements or requests that seem out of character
- Giving away personal belongings
- Making funeral plans
- Experiencing visions or hallucinations
- Making apologies or saying goodbye
As difficult as it may be to experience these changes in your loved one, it is important to stay strong. Spend as much time with your loved one as you can and let them know that they are not alone. Take difficult questions or reactions in stride and offer your loved one words of love, affirmation, and support. Most of all, give your loved one permission to say what they need to say and to let go when they are ready.
When Is It Time for Hospice?
A decision to enter hospice does not mean you are giving up. Hospice care is designed to help terminally ill patients live their remaining days to the fullest, increase quality of life and, ultimately, maximize the patient’s expected lifespan. There is no set timeline for when to start hospice, but you should time it appropriately so your loved one can enjoy the benefits for as long as possible.
When your loved one starts to show the end of life signs reviewed above, it is time to start talking about hospice care.
You do not necessarily need to wait that long, however.
Hospice is a fully covered Medicare benefit that any beneficiary is eligible to receive if a doctor determines life expectancy to be six months or less. The patient must forgo treatment for the terminal illness but may continue to receive treatment for other medical problems.
Hospice care is a holistic approach to treatment that focuses on the entire patient, not just the disease, and it addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient. The decision to enter hospice is a highly personal one, but it is not one that any patient needs to make alone. Caregivers and family should be involved in the decision to enter hospice and may continue to be involved in the patient’s care through the end of life.
If you are wondering when to start hospice or how to obtain hospice care for yourself or a loved one, contact Keystone Hospice at any time.