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How to Talk to Family About Hospice

When you’re caring for someone with a progressive illness, you may have seen changes in your loved one’s health that worry you. Maybe your dad’s COPD treatments are becoming less effective in managing his COPD over time. Maybe your loved one is in increasing pain as their cancer has spread. Or perhaps your wife’s pain is getting worse. Is it time to consider hospice? How do you talk about it?

Is It Time to Talk About Hospice Care?

As an illness progresses, it can be hard to make choices about care. And it can be harder still to think about hospice, let alone talk about it.

But going on hospice care is not “giving up.” Instead, hospice offers a level of care that patients (and their families) need when an illness gets to a certain point. Hospice seeks to improve quality of life through managing pain and other symptoms, and through emotional and spiritual support.

Hospice care might be appropriate when:

  • Your loved one has an illness or condition such as COPD, heart failure, cancer, or stroke, and it has become life-limiting
  • Symptoms are getting harder to manage
  • A cure is no longer likely
  • Your loved one is spending more time in the hospital
  • The main goal is relief from pain or other symptoms

How to Talk with Family About Hospice

You may have heard friends or extended family talk about how helpful hospice was in their situation. Still, it can be hard to accept that hospice might be the right choice for your loved one. How do you bring up the topic?

Amy Newman, a Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse, has often had such talks with patients and families. She suggests you start by admitting the subject’s difficulty. “Saying ‘I’m going to ask you a few sensitive questions,’ does two things. It lets your loved one know that you’re bringing up a delicate but important topic, and it reminds you to speak with kindness and compassion.”

Another tip: Focus on your loved one’s feelings to find out what is important to them. If they’re receiving cancer treatment, you might ask:

  • Chemo seems to be wearing you out more–how do you feel?
  • Do you want to spend so much time going to and from treatments?
  • Is there another way you’d like to be spending your time and energy?

Talking about all care options as early as possible gives more time to focus on your loved one’s priorities. Does your mom want to avoid hospitals and stay at home? Does your partner have relatives they want to contact? On hospice, the care team can help set goals, and help your loved one in meeting them.

What to Expect with Hospice Care

The VNSNY Hospice care team is made up of committed experts with special training to help patients and families. Hospice lets everyone make the most of the time they have.

Patients in hospice can expect:

  • Treatments to manage symptoms and relieve pain
  • Respect and dignity in care
  • Emotional and spiritual support

Have questions? We're here to help.

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