EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 18, 2012

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

Q: My husband has been ill for two years and has been rapidly deteriorating over the last few months. His doctors have told me there is nothing more that can be done to help him and hospice should be considered in the very near future. I feel I would be giving up on him if I took their advice. He has suffered for so long I don’t want to do anything to make his situation worse. How do I make such a difficult decision?

A: November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month which makes your question timely and relevant. Annually approximately 1.58 million Americans diagnosed with terminal conditions receive services through Hospice organizations. A comprehensive program of care is provided to patients and families dealing with end of life issues. The treatment team assigned to every patient includes a physician, nurse, social worker, home health aides, counselors, clergy and volunteers who jointly focus on the emotional, spiritual and social impact of dealing with a life threatening illness.

Patients must be referred by their physician who has every reason to believe the individual has 6 months or less to live. This is not a rule written in stone and there may be circumstances which extend the period of coverage. Hospice emphasizes palliative rather than curative treatment with a primary goal of providing comfort and dignity during the last days of a person’s life. The care may be delivered in a home environment, hospital, participating nursing home or a free standing Hospice House.

Dismiss all potential feelings of guilt! Deciding to accept Hospice care is not indicative of giving up. The focus is on caring when a cure is not available. Hospice care neither hastens nor postpones death. Your husband’s physician has indicated in his professional opinion there is nothing medical science can do to cure or prevent further deterioration of your husband’s condition. Hope is invaluable but there are times when reality must be faced. If you and your husband have had discussions involving end of life decisions as he has progressed through the disease process you should be fully aware of his wishes. If you haven’t had this conversation don’t delay confronting the issue. If your husband is not cognitively capable of understanding his prognosis the decision will rest on your shoulders. Seek support of other family members, friends and faith based leaders as you face the future.

Do you have a question? We encourage comments and inquiries from our readers. Direct all correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.

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