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Hospice Care -- Death With Dignity

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Dear Dr. Levister:

My brother is dying of AIDS. Our family members can no longer care for him. A friend suggested hospice care. What are the benefits of a hospice?

Dear K.D. The first hospices were formed in the Middle Ages. They offered shelter and comfort for travelers on long journeys who had fallen sick or needed a place to stay.

Today’s hospices serve travelers on a different journey -- they ease the physical and emotional pain of dying patients. The goal of hospice care is to help a person’s last months be as fulfilling and comfortable as possible.

Hospice care is usually provided in the dying person’s home. But it’s also offered in many hospitals and nursing homes. And some hospices have their own live-in centers.

Caring for someone who is seriously ill can present a huge physical and financial burden. By mobilizing appropriate resources to support the needs of dying persons and their families, the modern hospice movement has made it desirable for many terminally ill people to maintain the best possible quality of life.

Hospice care has been slow to catch on among some cultures particularly among African-Americans. In many cases family members are unwilling to accept the phase, “There is nothing more we can do.”

Instead, some families choose to pursue costly long term hospital care, and unsuccessful life sustaining approaches. Such efforts add emotional strain on the dying person and loved ones.

No one else provides the kind of services hospice does. The hospice team may include a medical doctor, nurse, social worker, personal and home care aides, and clergy. By attending to the needs of both the patient and their loved ones, hospice care can be a huge benefit for the entire family.

Caregivers typically design a family friendly regime to manage pain and other sources of distress and provide tender, loving care. For instance, a grandchild can take part in a loved one’s care by fluffing a pillow, reading a story, or feeding him or her a cup of soup.

Anyone who is willing to be helpful can simply offer their presence, reducing the sense of isolation and abandonment that affects so many ill and dying people.
Volunteers are the backbone of the hospice term.

Many hospice volunteers have, themselves, experienced the complicated and lengthy dying process of a terminally ill loved one. Hospice workers approach death and dying in an open, direct and practical way.

In spite of the painful aspects of anticipatory grief, ongoing love and attachment during the dying process can still exist. One can grieve and offer support while allowing a loved one to die with dignity. Ask your doctor or healthcare professional about hospice care in your community.

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