It’s one of the toughest conversations you’ll ever have — end-of-life planning. But the sooner it’s done, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the stress of caregiving and the bereavement after a family member passes away. Planning for something like this is a burden no one should face alone.
No one knows what the future holds, so everyone should have a basic plan in place should they no longer have the capacity to make their own decisions. Aging with Dignity publishes a “Five Wishes” living will that simplifies the process without hiring a lawyer, although that is always an option. Seniors can even fill out the form online and print it out or e-mail a copy to family members or their doctor. If your senior prefers to fill it out by hand, he can simply print out the blank forms. It costs $5 to create a Five Wishes living will, so you don’t have the added emotional toll of trying to make those tough decisions about care in a crisis.
Caring Connections also provides assistance with advance directives — legal documents that spell out what care you want if you can’t make decisions — as well as informational brochures on such topics as end-of-life planning, bereavement, palliative care, and hospice.
A Helping Hand
People often cringe at the mention of a hospice, as they may have misconceptions about it being a “death sentence” or a service that sedates patients with medication, but that’s not the case. Technically, everyone who is admitted to hospice care must have a prognosis of six months or less to live by certain criteria for different medical conditions, but some people are on hospice care for years. Hospice care qualification does not expire after six months, as long as the patient still meets the medical criteria to qualify (some are discharged from hospice care if they improve and no longer qualify).
If your family member qualifies, she’ll get routine visits from a nurse case manager who specializes in palliative care, or symptom management, to keep patients comfortable without sedation. The nurse manages medications, and hospice covers anything related to the hospice diagnosis as well as necessary medical equipment for the home. Many hospices have small, home-like inpatient units if someone needs acute symptom management or if the family needs a break from care.
With hospice care, not only do you get a nurse, but you also receive a whole team of support, whether it’s from a social worker, chaplain services, or a certified nursing assistant who comes in a few times a week to assist with personal care. The social worker can help you find additional resources for support and assist with end-of-life planning. The bereavement team also offers support for a year after your loved one passes away.
If you think this may be a good option, ask your loved one’s doctor for a referral for a hospice evaluation, or you can contact a local hospice directly for more information. The Hospice Foundation of America has an online directory to help you find those hospices closest to your loved one’s home.
End-of-life care can be a huge source of stress. As hard as it may be to ask for help sometimes, you shouldn’t be afraid to utilize these great resources. They can take much of the burden off your shoulders so you can focus on what matters most — spending your time with the one you love.