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Hospice care can make death more comfortable

Nobody likes talking about death, but experts say having a conversation is an important part of making sure death is as comfortable as possible. This week on WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen speak with Amy Tucci, president and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America. Tucci explains how hospice can help ease suffering for those who are dying and their families.

Lorraine Rapp: What are your suggestions of how to bring this up with people in your life so that you can talk about having a good death?

Amy Tucci: You know, it is a hard conversation, and I think really one of the best ways to start the conversation is to ask what’s important to your loved one, what’s important to you in terms of how you want to die. Study after study has shown that most people want to die at home surrounded by family and friends, and they want a death without pain, without a huge amount of medical intervention, and that’s what hospice is all about.

Linda Lowen: What is hospice and when should it begin?

Tucci: Right, hospice is really a philosophy of care. Sometimes it’s a place, but more often than not hospice care is delivered at someone’s home. And hospice is a type of care that’s delivered by a team of professionals. Those professionals include: a physician, a nurse, a social worker, a spiritual adviser or chaplin, a bereavement counselor, home health aides, volunteers and other therapists.

Lowen: It’s been often said that hospice for many people is a choice that they make too late in life. But just because you go into hospice does not mean your life is going to end quicker.

Tucci: That’s absolutely true. And in some cases, people live longer when they’re receiving hospice care. And what hospice really does, is hospice comes in and provides care that can make life worth living. Most people don’t understand that hospice care doesn’t mean that you’re sort of stuck at home in bed,  it really aims to make you comfortable and pain free and symptom free.

Lowen: What does hospice do to keep patients comfortable. How does it work?

Tucci: Well, palliative care is pain-relieving care and that can apply to medical care throughout somebody’s life. All hospice includes palliative care, not all palliative care includes hospice care. So, hospice clinicians are experts at palliative care techniques, which include medications, pharmaceutical products that help to relieve pain, and really more comfort measures, aroma therapy and music therapy and pet therapy.

Lowen: What does hospice offer after death to the family?

Tucci: The great thing about hospice care is that it’s not just for the patient, it’s also for the family. And families are given more than a year of bereavement help after a death. And I should also add that bereavement is not just after a death, it’s also before a death. The idea of anticipatory mourning, when somebody is caring for somebody who’s going to die, those feelings of loss are also there and hospice can be there to help for that too.

More of this interview can be heard on Take Care, WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York