Caretaking during the last few months or weeks of a loved one’s life isn’t easy. That’s particularly true when the patient is suffering from pain, discomfort, or limitations – no longer being able to eat or drink, for example – that greatly affects their quality of life, Ken Haglind explains. It will require a lot of strength, faith, and compassion to get you through this difficult stage, and you may feel as though you are all alone. That’s where hospice care comes in.
Ken Haglind, co-founder and president of Minnesota Hospice, discusses what hospice care is and how it helps patients and their families.
What is Hospice Care, Exactly?
At its heart, hospice is a holistic program that provides end-of-life care for terminally ill patients and their families. Among hospice care’s goals are making the patient as comfortable as possible, easing their symptoms and pain, and helping their families cope with the emotional upheaval during this period.
Hospice care focuses on patients who are expected to live for no more than six months. At this stage, Ken Haglind says, the individual’s doctors and other health care providers may have ceased providing medical interventions. The goal is not to cure the patient or to seek remission of their disease, but to provide as much comfort as possible in all aspects of a person’s well being.
Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care
According to Ken Haglind, many people are confused about the difference between hospice care and palliative care. It’s easy to see why, as they are very similar concepts. The key distinction is that palliative care can take place at any time during a patient’s treatment. Palliative care may be undertaken concurrently with curative efforts. In some cases, a medical team may make the decision to transition a patient from palliative to hospice care, but plenty of people who receive palliative care recover and go on to live full lives. So, while hospice is always palliative in nature, palliative care is not necessarily hospice.
The Many Faces of Hospice Care
Hospice care is holistic and comprehensive, explains Ken Haglind. It addresses the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of the patient and their family. To that end, a hospice team may comprise doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers, spiritual advisors or clergy members, and therapists or counselors who specialize in bereavement and grief. There may also be volunteers whose focus is on supporting the caregivers in addition to the patient, by taking care of practical matters or assisting in providing temporary respite.
Together, this interdisciplinary approach is welcomed by families who are struggling to juggle every aspect of the patient’s well-being. One important benefit of hospice care, explains Ken Haglind, is that it frees up family members so they can spend quality time with their loved one.
Hospice Can Happen At Home
Unlike many medical treatments, that must take place in a hospital or clinic, hospice care can take place wherever the patient is. This is a boon for those who wish to remain at home to be comforted by the familiar surroundings, Ken Haglind explains. Hospice care can also be administered in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. There are also some freestanding hospice centers, which can be a good choice if the patient’s home isn’t appropriate for one or more aspects of end-of-life treatment.
There are, of course, many difficult decisions that must be made when a terminally ill patient is living out his or her last days – but the decision to ask for help from a qualified, compassionate hospice team is surely one of the easiest, Ken Haglind explains.