Dying at home may be more difficult than expected
Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2013 at 7:49 am by Life Matters Media
Extensive planning is necessary for those determined to help their loved ones die peacefully at home, health care reporter Susan Seliger writes for The New York Times’ blog on aging. Most Americans say they want to die say “at home” when asked, but both the patient and caregiver’s well being must be considered.
Investing in the right equipment and preparing documents may overwhelm some caregivers, and although professional help is available, each patient’s circumstances are different. Seliger has prepared a list of 12 tips to help them fulfill their final wishes.
Perhaps the most important consideration is making room for the bed. “A lot of people put the patient in a family room where there is more space, or the dining room if it’s closer to a bathroom,” said Dr. Stacie K. Levine, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at the University of Chicago. She also recommends putting the bed on the first floor of the home to prevent strenuous movements.
The pros and cons of using a hospital bed, Seliger says, should be carefully considered due to the emotional impact that sleeping apart from a spouse can bring. She advises patients with dementia or cancer who are not that mobile to choose a bed with an air compression mattress in order to to prevent bedsores.
Other suggestions are simple comfort adjustments, such as cushioning the patient’s favorite chair or buying earphones for the hearing impaired. Spring pressure adjustable curtains provide privacy.
Caregivers may also make use of hospice during the last stages of care. “A good hospice team not only helps the caregiver figure out a plan for care but arranges for Medicare approval and payment,” Seliger writes.
“The larger the hospice, usually the more services for the patient and caregiver,” said Dr. R. Sean Morrison, director of the National Palliative Care Research Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. ”Ask for their daily patient census – several hundred patients per day is a good size.”
“What I see that prevents people from being able to stay at home [to die] is not their medical needs but the needs of their caregiver — can the caregiver really help, are there resources to help, or is that person going to be overwhelmed?” Morrison told Seliger.
“Respite care” for the caregiver may help with overwhelming stress. Respite care pays for up to five days of patient care in a nearby medical facility so the caregiver can take a break or even go on a vacation, said Lori Mulligan, senior director of development marketing and community services at Gilchrist Hospice.
Still, hospice care remains underutilized. As LMM previously reported, 36 percent of hospice patients die or are discharged within seven days of treatment. Many others suffer more than they need to due to hospice enrollment policies. Hospice is most often used when curative treatment is no longer effective, and a terminal patient is expected to live about six months or less.
Despite the work, home deaths may be less traumatic than hospital deaths, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Some 300 adults with terminal cancer and the same number of caregivers were studied. Among the caregivers, those whose loved ones did not die at home were about five times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder after six months than those whose loved ones died at home.
Learn more about dying at home from WebMD.
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Feeding tubes: Families struggle with the decision
Posted on Saturday, November 24th, 2012 at 3:12 pm by Life Matters Media
Many families caring for seniors with advanced neurological disease face this dilemma: prolong their loved one’s life by artificial means via a feeding tube or stop feeding them altogether. Lisa Krieger’s new feature for Mercury News focuses on the billion-dollar feeding tube business and why some families regret their decision to opt for artificial nutrition.
One-third of nursing home residents suffering from dementia receive tube feedings, contributing to the $1.64 billion industry. However, some families and physicians insist the value of feeding tubes is overrated, since they provide little medical benefit and increase pain for those suffering from progressive neurological disease.
“The number of nursing home residents with advanced dementia who get feeding tubes each year varies widely across states,” Krieger reports. The only comprehensive study on the matter found the average rate of use nationwide was 54 per 1,000 people.
Racial minorities are also more likely to opt for artificial tubes than whites. Life Matters Media previously reported that blacks are twice as likely than others to choose aggressive end of life treatments.
As medical costs continue to rise and the baby boomer population ages, views on artificial nutrition may be changing. “Decades after the tube achieved widespread use for people with irreversible dementia, some families are beginning to say no to them, as emerging research shows that artificial feeding prolongs, complicates and isolates dying,” Krieger writes.
For example, a 1999 study by Dr. Thomas Finucane of Johns Hopkins Medical Center found no evidence that feeding tubes prolong the lives of demented nursing home patients. They also didn’t prevent pneumonia or improve comfort.
Finucane’s analysis asserts: “We found no data to suggest that tube feeding improves any of these clinically important outcomes and some data to suggest that it does not… risks are substantial. The widespread practice of tube feeding should be carefully reconsidered…”
Most families, however, are accustomed to caring for their sick by feeding them, a reason why the decision to opt for or against artificial nutrition is especially emotional. “Food is how we comfort those we love; when all other forms of communication have vanished, feeding remains a final act of devotion,” Krieger writes.
Sometimes a terminally ill individual may not feel pain when a feeding tube is first inserted in the stomach. As the illness progresses and pain begins to get more intense, removing the tube becomes a moral debate. This quandary often comes as another surprise for families.
“It is amazing how long you can keep someone alive,” said Dr. Leslie Foote, medical director of Windsor Gardens Rehabilitation Center in California. “But we sure aren’t doing them any great favors.”
Despite some change in public opinion, families may not have the choice to reject feeding tubes. The fallout from the controversial 2005 Terri Schiavo case led the Catholic Church to order doctors at its hospitals to ignore patients’ advanced directives- even if they do not want artificial feeding. Catholic hospitals may mandate artificial nourishment.
In 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the directive to more than 1,000 Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, as well as to all Catholic doctors.
“People with end stage dementia still possess human dignity. And that dignity must be respected,” said Vice- President of Corporate Ethics at Catholic Daughters of Charity Health System Gerald Coleman. Krieger insists that tube feeding constitutes ordinary care at Catholic hospitals.
Learn more about feeding tubes at WebMD.
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Religion affects end-of-life decisions
Posted on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012 at 8:48 pm by Life Matters Media
In 2009, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study linking religion to longer and more intense end of life treatment, even when suffering ensues. The New York Times reported that, “The new study used both a questionnaire and interviews to assess the level of reliance on religious faith for comfort among 345 patients with advanced cancer.”
“There may be a sense that it is really not in the hands of the doctors to decide when to give up,” researcher Holly G. Prigerson, PhD. told WebMD. WebMD also found “A high level of religious coping was also associated with less use of end-of-life planning strategies, including do-not-resuscitate orders, living wills, and appointment of a health care power of attorney.” Similarly, The Huffington Post’s Valerie Tarico found a lack of planning to be notable among religious.
According to Tarico’s analysis: ”We are made to be scared of dying–to fight for life and as the poet Dylan Thomas put it to ‘rage against the dying of the light.’ Nonreligious people have to face this head on. They have to wrap their brains around the idea of non-existence, which frankly is rather hard to grok. Emotionally it raises not only fear but anger, confusion and grief. Religion offers a shortcut. Death isn’t really death. It is a transition to the next phase of life.” She believes the religious opt for longer treatment because, “At some level, a believer may wonder or even know that he simply doesn’t know, but belief itself precludes the hard work of coming to peace with nonexistence.”
The study is available at JAMA.
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