Many people will be faced with caring for an ill or dying parent at some point. It’s often a challenging time, both physically and mentally. Adult children may find themselves providing hands-on help, making decisions for Mom or Dad, and dealing with the emotional impact of the situation. And that’s on top of their already-busy lives.
Knowing what to expect and where to turn can help people navigate this difficult period – and even realize many benefits for their parent and themselves.
A natural process
First, it’s important to recognize that dying is a normal part of life, which all of us will eventually go through. While some people die suddenly and unexpectedly, many of us will experience a gradual decline leading to death.
In the best cases, the dying person and their loved ones make the most of these final months. And they receive the support they need to feel as good as possible – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s where hospice care comes in.
Hospice is based on the principle that each person matters, right to the end of their life. “We will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.” – Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement
Hospice focuses on quality – rather than quantity – of life. It provides care designed to keep the person as comfortable as possible, so they can spend time doing the things that are most meaningful to them. Moreover, hospice can even help a person live longer, by enhancing their overall well-being.
Hospice is generally available to those whose life expectancy is six months or less. If you can start your parent in hospice care early – when they still have many months to live and enjoy life – they will reap the greatest benefits, as hospice will help them feel better and be able to do more for a longer period.
For example, your mom or dad may wish to spend time visiting with friends and family, enjoying favorite foods, or going to special places, depending on their preferences and capabilities.
Over time, your parent in hospice care may become weaker and less able to engage with you and the world. But hospice will continue to support both of you. Read more about hospice care at home >>
Regardless of your age or level of closeness to your parent, their illness will have an emotional impact on both of you.
For example, it’s perfectly normal to feel grief when you have a parent in hospice care, as well as after their death. The grief you may feel while your parent is still living, known as “anticipatory grief,” can be very painful.
You may also feel guilty about not being able to do more for your parent in hospice. Your mom or dad may be experiencing similar feelings of grief and guilt, as they lose their ability to function independently.
A role reversal typically occurs, where you function more as the “parent” in the relationship, as you make more decisions and take on more responsibilities for your mom or dad’s care. This can be very difficult for both parent and child.
In addition, parents and children often experience fear and anxiety over what’s going to happen. And family relationships can become strained or worsened due to this emotional turbulence.
“When you have a parent in hospice care, the hospice team can ease your anxiety by being on-call 24/7, and by educating you about caring for your parent and what to expect as their condition progresses.”
Dr. Stephen Goldfine, Chief Medical Officer
Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice
Fortunately, hospice can help with these issues. A qualified hospice organization can provide the support needed to cope with patients’ and families’ emotional challenges at the end of life.
The hospice team – including nurses, social workers, and spiritual counselors – can work with you and your parent to increase understanding and empathy, reduce anxiety and conflict, and ease feelings of grief and guilt. They can help ensure that your mom or dad makes the most of their remaining time, including the time you spend together.
Each patient on hospice care has different needs, and the progression of one’s condition varies from person to person. A qualified hospice provider will address each of these needs and keep your parent as comfortable and pain-free as possible. They will balance this goal with enabling your parent to remain alert, so they can be consciously present in their remaining moments.
Hospice addresses a patient’s full range of physical needs, which can include:
One of the advantages of hospice care is that it’s provided in the person’s home, wherever they live. Most people want to remain at home, if possible, at the end of life, and hospice helps make this wish achievable.
Whether your parent still lives in their own home or with you or another loved one, the hospice team, supplies, and equipment will come directly to Mom or Dad.
If you have a parent in hospice care at home, here are some of the things you should expect from the hospice provider:
If your parent is unable to live at home, they may receive hospice care in their nursing home, assisted-living facility, or inpatient hospice center.
Hospice care in your parent’s nursing home or assisted-living facility is similar to in-home hospice care. It adds to the care already provided by the facility, including specialized expertise in end-of-life care.
A key benefit is that the hospice team maintains coordination and communication between the hospice team members, facility staff, and your family. The hospice team also provides added one-on-one attention for your mom or dad. The team may communicate healthcare needs and fulfill other wishes of your parent or family. You’ll also have more peace-of-mind, knowing there’s someone to call at any time, from anywhere in the world.
Inpatient hospice centers are for people who require a more intensive level of around-the-clock care in order to be comfortable and control pain and other symptoms. To learn about Samaritan’s inpatient hospice service, click here.
Remember, the end of life is a process, just like any other phase of life. It can be difficult, but it can also be beautiful and profound. It doesn’t have to be scary.
Hospice can help make this progression as peaceful, gentle, and happy as possible. Enroll in hospice early, so your parent and family have more support for a longer period.