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Death is hard, but hospice can help patients and families


Most people don't want to make plans for their own death, or for the death of their loved ones. But talking about death can assure that needs and wishes are met, and that patients are as comfortable as possible.

This week on Take Care, Amy Tucci, president and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America, discusses how hospice care can ease the pain of death. Tucci explains how hospice care can not only help patients, but also their families.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Amy Tucci.

Even though it can be scary to talk about death, Tucci says that discussing death with your loved ones is important, and can help ensure their wishes are met.

“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,” Tucci says.

According to Tucci, it’s essential to communicate about death, since not everybody wants the same thing. She says that some people would prefer to die in a hospital, but that studies show that most people want to die at home, with loved ones around them, which, according to Tucci, is what hospice care aims to do.

“Hospice is really a philosophy of care,” Tucci says. “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.”

These professionals don’t just include nurses. Hospice care also can also include doctors, social workers, spiritual advisers, bereavement counselors, and other therapists.

According to Tucci, most of the time a doctor will suggest hospice care. Typically, hospice care will be proposed if a patient’s prognosis is six months or less.

Tucci says that some people fear that when they enter hospice care, they are afraid death’s door is knocking, but this is not necessarily true. In fact, Tucci says sometimes people recover because of hospice care, and are released.

“In some cases, people live longer when they’re receiving hospice care,” Tucci says. “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.”

Hospice care focuses on what is called palliative care. Palliative care is a type of care that emphasizes pain relief. It can be implemented in situations besides hospice care. For example, Tucci says palliative care might be used at the dentist to ease a patient’s pain.

“All hospice includes palliative care, not all palliative care includes hospice care,” Tucci says.

Palliative care techniques used in hospice care vary dramatically, but what these methods have in common is they all seek to ease pain.

“Hospice clinicians are experts at palliative care techniques, which include medications, pharmaceutical products that help to relieve pain, and really more comfort measures, aromatherapy and music therapy and pet therapy.”

Tucci says one of the most helpful aspects of hospice care is that it does not only ease pain for the patient, but also for the family.

“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,” Tucci says. “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.”