When someone is approaching the end of life, it can be an extremely emotional and difficult time for everyone. Patients may be in physical pain or suffering from mental or spiritual stresses. Physical tasks can pile up and add to anxiety.
For loved ones, trying to provide comfort and care while watching someone’s medical condition deteriorate is exceptionally difficult as well. Here’s what you need to know about providing end of life care:
What Is End of Life Care?
End of Life Care is the healthcare provided to a person nearing the end of their life, either as they age or in the advanced stages of a terminal illness. While thinking about losing a loved one is difficult, it’s important to be prepared to provide them with the end of life care they’ll need.
Caregivers provide compassionate care to prevent or relieve suffering as much as possible and to provide dignity for the patient.
Four Areas of End of Life Care
In most cases, people nearing the end of life typically need care in four areas:
- Physical comfort
- Mental and Emotional support
- Spiritual support
- Practical tasks
In someone’s final days, it’s important to attend to their physical comfort. That includes helping relieve their pain. You may hear this referred to as palliative care. When there is no medical treatment that can prevent someone from passing, experts at the National Institute of Health recommend that caregivers focus on relieving the pain without worrying about the long-term consequences of administering pain medication.
Providing physical comfort may also include helping patients suffering from:
- Trouble breathing
- Skin irritations
- Digestive problems
- Sensitivity to temperature
- Agitation or confusion
Mental & Emotional Support
The end of life is a challenge for everyone, from the patient to the family and friends. It’s crucial to provide mental and emotional support throughout the process. Emotional pain and suffering are every bit as real as physical pain.
Many patients are worried about leaving their loved ones behind or being alone. Patients can feel isolated or depressed. Caregivers can help provide support by being present. Studies show that physical contact, such as holding a hand or a gentle touch, can help patients feel more connected and calmer.
Many people nearing the end of life also have spiritual needs that are just as important to them—or more important to them—than their physical needs. While some may find comfort in their faith, others may find themselves struggling with their spiritual beliefs.
Facilitating visits from clergy, reading religious texts, or listening to religious music may help provide comfort.
Spiritual support also goes beyond religion. Many patients seek closure with family members and resolve any conflicts or just want to share positive life experiences.
People facing the end of life often worry about the everyday tasks we all face. Family members can help provide support, including with:
- Bathing and toileting
- Getting in and out of bed
- Meal preparation
- Keeping up the household
Practical tasks may also include helping the patient with health care choices, legal counsel, and sorting out important documents. This can often provide comfort to patients that worry about what happens after they are gone.
Planning Ahead for End of Life Care
It’s important to consider the type of care you would like at the end of your life. Many people choose to be at home with loved ones. The choice is yours, but making your preferences known ahead of time can help ensure your concerns are met.
It’s also crucial to have the right paperwork in place. This includes a health care directive, also known as an advance directive (AD). These are legal documents that instruct healthcare providers on how you want them to carry out medical decisions. Depending on state regulations, this may include additional documents such as:
- Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
- Living Will
- Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
These documents let caregivers know how you want to handle difficult medical decisions. A common request is to allow for palliative care to decrease pain and suffering, but employ a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order excluding extraordinary measures, such as CPR in certain circumstances.
This documentation also designates others, such as a spouse, relative, or friend, to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so on your own.
Besides the legal and medical care, it is also important to make sure family members know how you want to handle the end of life in advance. This might include funeral arrangements, remembrances, organ donation, estate planning, and more.
These are decisions you want to make ahead of time before it’s too late. Advance planning can help reduce stress and anxiety and make sure the patient’s wishes are met.