(November 23, 2022) – In 1789, Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that “…in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” More than 230 years later, that statement still rings true. Despite how common those two occasions are, Americans still shy away from preparation for – and discussion of – the end of life.
This reluctance is a topic that National Hospice & Palliative Care Month seeks to address each November. The advantages of end-of-life care and the peace of mind that come from considering how to plan for a good death are worthwhile topics for families to discuss. Open conversations can help ensure that everyone involved is on the same page when the moment approaches and can head off hasty decisions when people aren’t thinking clearly or are weighed down by grief.
Hospice benefits are available through Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance and are designed to support people whose doctor has determined that they have a life expectancy of six months or less. That time frame is not written in stone, however, and many people live longer, so benefits can be extended as necessary. Palliative care is covered by the same entities; the difference is that palliative care is offered to people with chronic care needs and diagnoses. Rather than life expectancy, it’s more directly focused on the quality of life that a person is seeking.
While many people are uncomfortable talking about end-of-life care, it’s a benefit available to everyone. Hospice and palliative care services provide a care team that can include a physician, nurse, social worker, chaplain, grief counselor, therapist, volunteer, and nursing assistant. All of these people work together to ensure that a person has robust, comprehensive support that fits their own needs and circumstances. Plus, the care team allows family members to simply be family members rather than caregivers, which is an immense gift during times of stress.
Among the many other benefits of hospice are:
- medication rebalancing, which can help eliminate side effects and interactions that may cause a patient to be more lethargic or confused,
- a 24/7 care team who can respond to questions and concerns and eliminate unnecessary emergency room visits that often upset families and patients,
- business office staff who can help troubleshoot insurance matters and assist with benefits available through the Veterans Administration, and
- bereavement services that can help family members cope with loss, whether it’s anticipatory or up to a year following a death.
If you have a loved one who might find comfort in palliative or hospice care, all you have to do is make a simple phone call to schedule an evaluation – and there’s no obligation to enroll. A member of the admissions team will come out for a visit, get a feel for the patient’s situation, and then make recommendations for care. Hospice and palliative care are always voluntary – if you want to disenroll, either temporarily or for good, it’s your choice as a patient. Your health care needs are always in your own hands.
EveryAge’s residents, both long-term and short-term, are invited to speak to a clinical team member or social worker anytime for more information about hospice and palliative care in our communities and health care units. We can offer specific details about living wills, powers of attorney, and appropriate comfort measures. We can also help coordinate visits with local organizations that provide an extra layer of support.
One of the most repeated comments from families whose loved ones received hospice and palliative care is that they didn’t take advantage of the services as early as they could have. End-of-life care isn’t always last-minute, so make every effort to give your loved one the most extensive support possible. Ask for help, explore the opportunities, and realize that bringing in a specialized care team is not a wish for a quicker death but a way to offer relief, reassurance, and – most of all – the invaluable gift of quality time together when it matters most.