Hospice best utilized sooner rather than later

By Tamera Manzanares

Strong relationships and trust between hospice patients and hospice teams yield the most meaningful benefits. Trust takes time, and many people nearing end-of-life are waiting too long to begin hospice care.

Although patients with a life expectancy of six months or less may enter the hospice program at Northwest Colorado Health, most do not start until their last weeks or days of life. This echoes national trends which may be fueled, in part, by the misperception that hospice is “giving up,” said Julie Gates, clinical supervisor of home services at Northwest Colorado Health. “In our culture, we avoid the topic of death at all costs, but death is a natural process that we all face sooner or later,” she said. “Hospice acknowledges that and focuses on making it peaceful by giving patients the best quality of life possible while they are here.”

Hospice teams work together to manage patients’ physical pain and support their mental and spiritual health as they near end-of-life. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society last year found that many patients’ most debilitating symptoms decreased significantly, after hospice began.

Hospice also helps families by relieving the strain of caregiving and providing them more quality time with their loved ones. “The sooner we can be involved, the more time we have to establish a trusting relationship that allows us to really help families through a very difficult time,” Gates said.

Physical and occupational therapy as well as acupuncture and massage are available to hospice patients who can benefit from those services. Medical social workers, bereavement care coordinators and volunteers support families through many aspects of the end-of-life process and also facilitate healing and closure within families. “Getting our hospice team involved earlier opens doors to conversations that may not have occurred between patients and families,” she said. “It really brings up things that may need to be talked about and resolved. The dying process is more peaceful when everyone knows they are on the same page.”

Hospice is available to patients through a referral from their health care provider. Northwest Colorado Health offers consultations to answer questions and walk families through the hospice process. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 970-871-7629.

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