If you or your loved ones have not had previous experience with making decisions for someone who is very sick, you need to know it can be difficult to navigate – especially if you attempt it on your own.

You should also know that help is available, right here in your community, to you and your family. In fact, there are two kinds of care for those who are nearing the end of life, no matter their age: hospice care and palliative care.

Hospice care is comfort care, focused on managing a patient’s symptoms and keeping the person comfortable. This type of care is important when you or your loved one are no longer seeking curative treatment for an illness or condition that is terminal.

The bottom line to consider is, if treatments were given, will this disease go away? If not, then it’s time for hospice care.

Hospice care is provided by a team of professionals for the person and the family, usually in the home – whether a house, apartment or assisted living, or sometimes in a hospital. 

When a hospice care facility is available, some patients opt to stay there for round-the-clock care. In our area, Caroline’s Cottage is available for inpatient hospice. 

Typically, the team includes the hospice medical director, often in coordination with a person’s primary care physician; a registered nurse; certified nursing assistants; social workers; a chaplain or other spiritual counselor; speech or physical therapists when needed; and bereavement counselors. In addition to professionals, trained hospice volunteers are available to give caregivers a break, or to simply sit with a patient and offer company.

Once on hospice care, a patient is provided with medications, supplies and durable medical equipment, such as a hospital bed. Family members may receive emotional support and counseling, along with the patient.

There are many myths when it comes to hospice. Electing hospice care does not mean that hope is lost and there is nothing else to do. In fact, some people on hospice care live longer than expected once symptoms and pain are managed.

Hospice patients may still see their primary care doctor, eye doctor, dentist and others. They might feel like going to dinner or traveling.

Hospice care is free. It is covered by insurance, including Medicare. A nonprofit hospice does not charge insured nor uninsured patients or their families for care.

Palliative care is similar to hospice care in that it focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress caused from dealing with serious illness. The team works with a patient’s doctor while the person continues to seek curative treatment. There is no time restraint.

What the advantage to having palliative care? What happens if you have pain or symptoms at 2 a.m.? You call the palliative care team for support at 2 a.m. They can come to your home to help manage the symptoms. This is added support so you can sleep easy, knowing help isn’t far away.  

Lindsay Roberg is the president/CEO at Friends of Caroline, a local nonprofit hospice and palliative agency.  fochospice.org