November is more than a perfect month to count your blessings and be more grateful, it is also National Hospice and Palliative Care Month in America. According to 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data in the United States, there were 39.6 million Americans over the age of 65. The same data confirms that women have longer life expectancies at age 65 than men do. Therefore, it follows that the expanding trend towards using hospice care in our country will have a disproportionately greater impact on women’s end stage of life. It is hoped that with this article, women readers especially will take the time to read on and learn more about a serious, if tough, issue facing women today.
What is hospice?
Hospice is a specialized type of care provided to the dying and their loved ones, designed to promote comfort during the end stage of life. Hospice care is generally initiated when a person is given a terminal diagnosis limiting life expectancy to fewer than six months and after other medical options are exhausted or no longer deemed appropriate.
It is more than traditional medical care. Hospice palliative care provides expert pain management, symptom control, emotional support, and spiritual care to patients and family caregivers when a cure is not possible. Care is provided by a highly trained team of professionals and volunteers.
According to Colorado’s Brush News-Tribune in an article published on November 10, 2012,
“Every year, more than 1.58 million people living with a life-limiting illness receive care from hospice palliative care providers in the U.S., reports the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. During National Hospice and Palliative Care Month this November, providers across the country are raising awareness of the many benefits of hospice palliative care.”
The article goes on to point out six important things to know about hospice:
1. Hospice care is usually provided in the home — wherever the patient calls home.
2. Hospice cares for people with any kind of life-limiting illness.
3. Hospice is fully covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health plans and HMOs.
4. Hospice is not limited to six months of care.
5. Hospice is not “giving up”; rather the focus is on caring, not curing.
6. Anyone can contact hospice – so call your local program to learn if hospice is right for you or your loved one.
Women and care giving
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance:
“Most older persons with long-term care needs—65%—rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. Another 30% will supplement family care with assistance from paid providers. Care provided by family and friends can determine whether older persons can remain at home.
Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors, and they play many roles while care giving—hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate decision-maker and advocate.
Many studies have looked at the role of women and family care giving. Although not all have addressed gender issues and care giving specifically, the results are still generalizable to women because they are the majority of informal care providers in this country.
Women don’t abandon their care giving responsibilities because of employment. Instead, they cope—to the best of their abilities—with the combined pressures of caring for a loved one, their need for income, reliance on often inadequate public programs and fewer employment-related benefits.
The toll that care giving takes is not just financial. Higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges are common among women who care for an older relative or friend. Studies find that men respond to care giving responsibilities in a fundamentally different way. Women tend to stay home to provide time-consuming care to one or more ill or disabled friends or family members, while men respond to loved one’s needs for support by delaying retirement, in part to shoulder the financial burden associated with long-term care.
One four-year study found that middle-aged and older women who provided care for an ill or disabled spouse were almost six times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as were those who had no care giving responsibilities.”
The risk for caregivers is not limited to depression. Various studies have noted higher levels of hostility and stress, declines in happiness and less personal-mastery and self-acceptance among caregivers. In addition to the challenge to emotional health, physical well-being also often falls by the wayside. More than one-third of caregivers are providing intense and continuing care to others, while suffering from poor health themselves, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Role of self-care for caregivers themselves
The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends care givers pay attention to self-care for themselves:
“Because of the multi-faceted role that family and informal caregivers play, they need a range of support services to remain healthy, improve their care giving skills and remain in their care giving role. Caregiver support services include information, assistance, counseling, respite, home modifications or assistive devices, support groups and family counseling.”
Another great resource, the Hospice Foundation of America also encourages care givers to practice self-care:
“When you care for someone who is dying, it is critical to find ways to care for yourself as well. Practicing proper nutrition, getting enough rest, and exercising regularly and reasonably will contribute to a sense of well-being, offer a renewed sense of control, contribute to your overall health, and help you provide better care.”
With proven track records, two metro-Denver area hospice organizations to learn more about
The mission of the well-regarded Denver Hospice is to encircle those facing advanced illness with unprecedented levels of comfort, compassion and expertise. For over three decades, more than 50,000 patients and their family members have turned to The Denver Hospice for care and comfort during difficult times. The Denver Hospice offers the following services:
- Care for the elderly at the end of their long, rich lives.
- Care for those struck far too young by advanced illness.
- Comfort to those who choose to battle their life-limiting illness.
- Comfort and grief counseling to families and friends
Staff members of The Denver Hospice are specialists across many disciplines, including pediatric hospice, pain management, nutrition and other special needs. Its board-certified palliative care physicians and nurses are among the best in their field. Day or night, The Denver Hospice is on call around-the-clock with palliative care physicians, nurses, certified nurses’ aides, social workers and chaplains. From medications to medical supplies and equipment to bring comfort and manage symptoms, the organization is full-service.
Another excellent local Denver organization to explore if you are interested in learning more about hospice and palliative care is Shalom Hospice Care, a unit of Shalom Cares. The philosophy of Shalom Hospice Care is striving to create a peaceful and meaningful experience for a dying person and his or her loved ones. It supports the whole person— spiritually, physically and emotionally. Because Shalom Hospice Care is committed to honoring each individual’s personal preferences, it is able to provide services to patients wherever they call “home”: a care center, assisted living facility or private home. The vision of Shalom Hospice Care is to make the hospice experience peaceful and positive for patients and their loved ones by honoring patients’ choices and assuring exceptional care provided by highly skilled and compassionate staff.
Both The Denver Hospice and Shalom Cares are nonprofit organizations and welcome your interest in learning more about their services at your convenience.
Information is also available about hospice, palliative care, and advance care planning from the “Caring Connections” programs of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NPHCO) by clicking here or by calling the Help Line at 800-658-8898.