End-of-life can be a very difficult time for the individual, their caregivers, and their family. As administrators, it’s our job to make our residents’ final days as comfortable as possible. We can do this in many ways, including providing palliative and hospice care and meeting all of our seniors’ end-of-life needs. Keep reading to learn more about providing compassionate end-of-life care for your residents.

What is End-of-Life Care?

Put simply, end-of-life care is provided for people who are nearing the end of their lives and are no longer treating their disease. At this point, the goal is to manage pain and improve end-of-life care so the individual is as comfortable as possible.

There are two main forms of end-of-life care: palliative care and hospice care.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a holistic care approach that’s dedicated to relieving symptoms and pain at any stage of an illness. It brings together doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, nutritionists, and other experts. The goal of palliative care is to provide physical, social, mental, and spiritual support to improve the individual’s quality of life.

Palliative care isn’t confined to end-of-life and often accompanies curative treatments. Anyone living with a serious, chronic illness (like cancer, heart failure, or dementia) can qualify for palliative care and receive it over an extended period of time.

If curative treatment isn’t working (or if the individual chooses to end their curative treatment), palliative care can transition into hospice care.

What is Hospice Care?

Hospice care is for people who have less than six months to live, as determined by a doctor. Individuals at end-of-life who choose not to pursue curative treatment can also qualify for hospice care. Hospice care is available in a variety of settings, including the person’s home, an assisted living facility, or a hospital.

So, what is hospice care like? Similar to palliative care, hospice provides holistic, comprehensive comfort care for the individual. Hospice also provides support for caregivers and families through services like respite care.

Hospice care teams are made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual leaders, and trained volunteers. Hospice team members visit regularly, and someone is available by phone around the clock.

End-of-Life Care Needs

While end-of-life means something different to everyone, there are several universal care needs. It’s essential to provide the following compassionate, end-of-life care for individuals and their families:

  • Physical comfort
  • Mental and emotional support
  • Spiritual support
  • Assistance with planning and practical tasks

End-of-Life Care Needs: Physical

Because they’re suffering from serious illnesses, many individuals deal with physical pain at end of life. Always focus on relieving their pain to keep them as comfortable as possible. Provide the pain medication that has been prescribed by a doctor, and make sure you’re adjusting doses according to pain levels.

The following physical symptoms are often associated with end of life:

  • Skin issues like dry skin or bed sores.
  • Breathing problems like shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Digestive issues like vomiting, nausea, constipation, or loss of appetite due to pain medications.
  • Fatigue as a side effect of the individual’s disease or medications.

End-of-Life Care Needs: Mental & Emotional

In addition to physical pain, many individuals struggle with mental and emotional issues. These include depression, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty about what comes next. It’s important to take mental and emotional pain just as seriously as physical pain.

Depending on the situation, you might connect the individual with a counselor or have a doctor prescribe medication. Ultimately, the goal is to keep the individual as comfortable as possible, respect their wishes, and let them deal with death in the best way for them.

End-of-Life Care Needs: Spiritual

If the individual is religious, make sure they have access to a spiritual advisor or faith leader. They may want to read religious texts, listen to religious music, or pray with family and friends. In some cases, the individual may want to settle disagreements with others before they die. To make this process easier for them, consider providing a social worker or counselor.

End-of-Life Care Needs: Practical Tasks

Finally, it’s crucial to prepare ahead of time when it comes to a person’s end-of-life wishes. Do they want to be buried or cremated? Are they interested in curative treatments? Do they have an advance directive or living will? Knowing the individual’s preferences beforehand ensures nobody has to worry about the details at the end of their life and provides resolution.

Looking for more information on how to provide compassionate end-of-life care for your residents? Check out our End-of-Life Care in Assisted Living manual.