Hospice Care Maintains Dignity for Patients at the End of Life
When patients and their families talk about what matters to them as they near the end of life, “dignity” is often mentioned as being of great importance. The word dignity is derived from a Latin term meaning “worth” or “value,” which suggests that patients with life-limiting illness want to feel that their lives matter and they are worthy of love and respect throughout all their days.
In his groundbreaking research on dignity, Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov found that pain management, care for dependency needs, hopefulness, support network and meaning were all factors that greatly influenced the sense of dignity for patients and their families at the end of life. Hospice is a uniquely designed model of medical care that meets all of these needs and focuses on patient dignity as a priority. By utilizing a team approach that includes the needs of the whole patient and family, hospice workers honor the worth and value of their patients in the following ways:
The nurses and doctors who work in hospice receive specialized training in treating various types of pain using medications and other modalities such as massage, music therapy and relaxation techniques. They are also highly skilled in recognizing and managing other symptoms that contribute to discomfort for patients. Family members receive the training and information they need to improve their loved one’s comfort as well.
Care for dependency needs
Home health aides are an essential part of the hospice team who are skilled at providing gentle hands-on care to their patients. They assist with intimate care needs such as bathing, dressing and grooming so patients will feel greater well being and physical comfort. The care offered by aides allows family members to spend more quality time with their loved one and frees patients from worrying that their care is a burden to their families.
When hope is difficult to find for a person with a life-limiting illness, hospice team members, including the social worker and chaplain, have vast experience in helping patients redefine the meaning of “hope.” While a cure for illness may not be possible, there is hopefulness in spending time with loved ones, finding laughter and joy in the little moments of life, and connecting more deeply with one’s own values. Hope also comes from receiving the best possible care and comfort management during the last days of life.
The entire hospice team becomes a valuable external support system for patient and family, offering expertise, hands-on care, education, volunteer visits and round-the-clock availability. With the assistance offered by the hospice team, family and friends are better able to create their own network of support as they nurture and tend to their loved one throughout the last days. Patients can be more relaxed and less anxious when the support network is reliable and they know that no one person is overly burdened with caregiving.
The entire hospice team understands the importance of helping patients find meaning in their lives, but the chaplain and social worker focus especially on this need. They are skilled at listening to patients’ stories and recognizing the beauty and worth of every single life. Patients feel valued and heard and are able to tie up the “loose ends” of life when they receive this level of support.
Within all of the medical care currently available, hospice and palliative care are unique because they offer a team approach that meets the needs of the whole patient and family. The dignity of patients as they experience the last days of life is a priority for the hospice staff. If you or a loved one are facing a life-limiting illness, consider seeking care and support from your local hospice and palliative care team so you can find value and deeper meaning, even during a difficult time.