Do We Have A Right To A ‘Good Death’?

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Should doctors do everything they can to preserve life, or should some medical techniques, such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), be a matter of patient choice? Doctor Sarah Simons wades into the debate and argues that ‘do not resuscitate’ decisions are all about patients’ human rights.

Of all our human rights, the right to life is the one most often held up as the flagship, fundamental right: after all, without life, how can one learn, love, communicate, play or have a family?

The right to life is closely linked to the right to health. Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has signed and ratified, states are required to “recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.

Protecting patients’ rights to life and health involves providing necessary life-saving treatment (known as resuscitation) if their life is threatened by serious illness or injury. It also involves enabling patients to live as well as possible for as long as possible: for example, by treating preventable diseases and encouraging people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. However, although many aspects of medicine and health are unpredictable, death is the one certainty for all of us.

Is There a Right to a Good Death?

In recent years, there has been much debate surrounding how healthcare practitioners should approach end-of-life issues with patients. A ‘good, natural death’ is increasingly recognised as a part of someone’s human right to life.

When healthcare professionals acknowledge that someone is approaching the final stages of their life, and no longer responding to life-saving treatment, treatment is not withdrawn, but instead, the goal is changed to treatment focussed on preserving the patient’s quality of life and managing their symptoms in accordance with their wishes. It’s important to draw a distinction between this and the ethical debate on euthanasia, which is altogether different from end-of-life care and natural death.

A ‘good, natural death’ is increasingly recognised as a part of someone’s human right to life.

Sarah Simons

This change of focus often includes completing a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) order, instructing healthcare teams not to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when the patients’ heart and lungs cease to work. This decision is usually made on the grounds of pre-existing medical conditions and poor physiological reserve and frailty, which mean that CPR will not be successful. A DNR should always take into account the patient’s informed opinion on the matter, or at least their next of kin’s.

A DNR decision only refers to CPR. The patient can still receive treatment for related issues, such as antibiotics for an infection, and all other life-preserving or life-saving treatments can be given until the patient’s heart and lungs stop working. A DNR decision never means that life-saving treatment is not given – the purpose of a DNR is to allow the patient to pass away naturally and peacefully, with dignity and without traumatic medical intervention.

What Exactly is CPR?

Understanding the reality of CPR is vital to understanding why it is a human rights issue. CPR is used when someone has a cardiac arrest, which means they have suddenly stopped breathing and their heart has stopped beating.

CPR specifically refers to the chest compressions, electric shocks and artificial breathing technique used to stimulate and replicate the beating of the heart to pump blood around the body and the breaths taken to inflate the lungs with oxygen. This is effective when a sudden cardiac arrest occurs and someone’s organs stop unexpectedly, but the underlying mechanism of a cardiac arrest is very different from when the heart stops beating as part of the body’s natural decline at the end of life

CPR is traumatic, undignified and usually unsuccessful in patients of all ages.

Sarah Simons

Sadly, despite Hollywood’s optimistic depictions of resuscitation, the reality is that CPR is often traumatic, undignified and usually unsuccessful in patients of all ages. CPR will not reverse years of gradually shrinking muscle mass, rejuvenate brains worn down by the steady decline of dementia, remove cancerous tumours or clear obstructed lungs weathered by years of COPD, which are often the underlying causes when someone’s heart and lungs have stopped.

 

CPR will cause bruising, vomiting, bleeding and broken ribs. CPR will render someone’s dying moments traumatic and undignified, and it will leave their friends and families with lasting memories of a failed, brutal resuscitation rather than a mental image of their loved one peacefully slipping away pain-free and asleep.

What Do Experts Have to Say About This?

Guidance published by the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2016 emphasised the importance of recognising patients’ human rights in relation to decisions about CPR and end-of-life care. The guidance recognised that “provisions particularly relevant to decisions about attempting CPR include the right to life (Article 2) [and] the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3)”.

Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention specifically refers to the right to protection from inhuman or degrading treatment, and understanding the brutal, traumatic reality of CPR is a crucial consideration when thinking about DNR decisions. The GMC goes on to reference “the right to respect for privacy and family life (Article 8), the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold opinions and to receive information (Article 10) and the right to be free from discrimination in respect of these rights (Article 14).”

The GMC guidance also highlights that the Human Rights Act, (which incorporates the Human Rights Convention into UK law), “aims to promote human dignity and transparent decision-making”, which should also be key concerns for doctors making decisions across all aspects of medicine.

Making the Right Choice For The Patient

Having open, frank discussions about CPR, and end-of-life decisions in general, enables healthcare professionals and patients to make informed decisions together. Doing so empowers patients to ask questions and insist that their rights are respected. It gives patients time to talk to their loved ones about what’s important to them, including any religious considerations, before their health deteriorates to a point where these conversations may not be possible. 

Having open, frank discussions about CPR … enables healthcare professionals and patients to make informed decisions together.

Sarah Simons

Avoiding these conversations, while perhaps understandable given that no-one likes to think of their loved ones dying, means that important questions may not get asked and the patient’s wishes may go unheard. Making decisions on CPR and other practical matters is important, but so is acknowledging that someone wants to spend their last days eating mint chocolate chip ice cream at home listening to a specific Eva Cassidy album whilst surrounded by their pets and children.

As the NHS turns 70 later this year, and continues to navigate the challenges of an ageing population, conversations about end-of-life care are more important than ever before. Grief and bereavement are difficult, emotionally charged topics of conversation, but death is a normal human process. Taking the opportunity to talk about what we want at the end of our lives empowers us to make informed decisions and ultimately help all of us to die well one day.

Complete Article HERE!

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Death doulas provide comfort on final journey: ‘We know how to die’

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End-of-life doulas fill an emotional gap between doctors, family and attitudes about dying. 

Christy Marek, a certified death doula from Lakeville, is part of a new field that reflects gradually more open attitudes toward death.

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We should be better at dying.

That sounds judgmental, but it’s more akin to wishful thinking.

While death is a certainty, it’s rarely a goal, so we tend to resist, to worry, to grasp at new treatments or old beliefs.

But the emerging death doula movement offers another option: We can’t change the destination, but we can improve the journey.

The term doula is more linked to childbirth, describing someone present during labor to help a mother feel safe and comfortable. There’s no medical role; doulas are companions and listeners. They attend.

End-of-life doulas, also called death doulas or death midwives, similarly are attuned to a dying person’s emotional needs.

“It’s about filling a gap that the system doesn’t acknowledge,” said Christy Marek, an end-of-life doula from Lakeville. “The system is designed to tend the body. But when you get into the lonely feelings, the mess of real life, the expectations and beliefs around dying — those things don’t fit into the existing system.”

In some ways, death doulas signal a return to earlier times, when ailing parents lived with children, when life-extending options were fewer.

“Death was more of a ritual, really laboring with someone as they were dying,” said Jeri Glatter, vice president of the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) in New Jersey.

Family and friends “felt a sense of acceptance and completion and a knowledge that they had fully honored someone,” she said. “It’s the most loving act that they could do.”

Over time, though, “we became a very medicated society — and thank God for that. I don’t want to diminish that,” Glatter said. But medical options can create a sense of disconnect with our inevitable mortality. When those options are exhausted, “we say we’ll house them, make sure they have medication and have a bed that goes up and down.

“But people are saying, ‘I don’t feel OK about this.’ ”

Marek is the first end-of-life doula in Minnesota certified by INELDA, credited with creating the first death doula program for hospitals and hospices in 2003. It offered its first public training in 2015; last year, 700 people attended 18 sessions. Several other groups in Minnesota and elsewhere offer training and doula directories.

Glatter said the trend has roots with those who used birth doulas in the 1980s.

“These people now are burying their parents. Just as with birth, as we labor into the world fully engaged in that process, they’re saying, ‘I want to be fully engaged in this process.’ Doulas are the bookends of life.”

How can we do this together?

What does it mean to be fully engaged? Whatever the dying person wants it to mean.

“Is the person having their own experience, instead of trying to meet the expectations of the family?” Marek asked. “I’m there to create a space for the person who is dying to ask, ‘How can we do this together?’ ”

One woman, for example, asked Marek to tell everyone that she wanted acknowledgment — a greeting — each time someone entered her room, “even though it may look like she’s sleeping.”

Marek added, “I have no agenda other than reflecting to that person what they are saying, what they are feeling. I can give directions to family and friends, which is a comfort to the dying person because then people around them know what to do — and they feel listened to.”

As part of a new field, doulas occupy a niche among doctors, family, hospice and other factors. Sometimes, doulas fill practical needs, gathering paperwork or helping with funeral plans, particularly if relatives are distant, either geographically or emotionally.

More often, though, their roles are more personal: creating a vigil environment, writing letters to loved ones, helping family members recognize the signs of dying such as a change in breath and, finally, helping survivors deal with their loss.

Glatter said that doctors or hospital personnel sometimes worry that a doula will infringe upon medical decisions. But doulas have no medical role, and may even be able to provide information that doesn’t come up in medical conversations, “such as, ‘Do you know there’s a son with a restraining order?’ ”

Doulas’ lack of medical standing also enables consistency. Doctors may change. Hospice care may be suspended. “But a doula provides a continuity of care no matter what treatments are being done or not,” Marek said.

Dying as a creative process

Marek, 47, appears to wear not a speck of makeup. The physical transparency mirrors her comfort with the emotions that dying can expose. But it took her years to reach this point.

With a degree in child psychology, she intended to work with youngsters. Then she met a child life specialist, a field of which she’d never heard, describing someone who works with children with acute, often fatal, illnesses.

“It was like a lightning bolt went through me,” she said. “I knew that someday I would work with people who are dying. And it scared the pants off me!”

She went on to do other work, in the course of which she explored yoga, shamanism, writing, painting and more. She studied to become an anam cara, from pre-Christian Celtic spirituality that translates as “soul friend.”

Every few years, the idea of working with dying people surfaced, but never took hold. Then, five years ago, she learned about applying doula principles to the dying process. This time, the idea came cast as “the creative process at the end of your life,” and her path was clear.

“I feel like this has been following me my whole life,” Marek said. She took the training through INELDA, which includes vigil planning, working with the survivors, and self-care for doulas themselves. She founded a business, Tending Life at the Threshold.

“As doulas, we’re trying to normalize the experience of death,” Marek said.

She recalled one woman who said that her mother would love it if Marek would read the book of Psalms or a Hail Mary. “And I told her, ‘I can certainly do that. But it would be more meaningful if you did.’ ”

Once family members and friends learn that it’s OK to “lean into the pain,” she said, they may find a sense of comfort and ease with dying that, in turn, proves a gift to their loved one.

Another support system

Karen Axeen had been sick for what seemed like forever, after years of breast cancer and ovarian cancer and other chronic illnesses.

After spending almost all of 2016 in the hospital, she decided to enter hospice care. She also decided that she wanted a doula at her side.

“She kind of fell into the idea, talking with the hospital social workers,” said her daughter, Laura Fennell, who lives in Marshall, Minn. “I don’t live close by, so I think it was really helpful for her.”

Working with Marek, Axeen developed what’s often called a legacy project. In this case, she wrote several letters to each of her six grandchildren, to be read as they grow older.

“She wrote letters to be read on their 16th and 18th birthdays, on their wedding days, on the first day they have kids of their own,” Fennell said.

“I think I probably would have been lost after my mom had passed away, but Christy had everything organized,” she added. “It’s definitely a great service for those who don’t have family in the area.”

End-of-life doulas “are another support system,” Fennell said. “It was important for Mom to be able to get to know someone closely and have them walk her through the final process of life.”

Axeen died on Sept. 23, 2017, at age 57.

‘We know how to die’

Some death doulas volunteer with hospices or churches. Others work in hospitals, while others set up private practices.

Glatter mentioned a California prison where inmates with life sentences became end-of-life doulas “because they wanted to be able to care for their own,” she said. “They’re really an extraordinary group of men who wanted to pay their debt to society by helping other inmates as they die.”

An article in Money magazine included death doulas among “seven new jobs that reflect what’s important in 2017.” Also listed, compost collectors and vegan butchers.

The death doula trend reflects gradually more open attitudes toward death. Surveys show that 80 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home if possible, but few are able to. Yet the landscape slowly is changing. Hospital deaths slowly declined from 2000 to 2010. In that time, deaths in the home grew from 23 percent to 27 percent. Deaths in nursing homes held steady at about 20 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control suggested that the shifts reflect more use of hospice care. As the dying process becomes, for some, more grounded in the home, end-of-life doulas may become more familiar and, in Marek’s vision, help make death a natural part of life.

She reached that vision, in part, during an outdoor meditation project she began in 2014. For 1,000 days, she meditated for 20 minutes outdoors, no matter the weather. (It’s on Instagram as wonderofallthings.)

“Sometimes I’d be thinking, ‘This is awful. But that’s OK,’ ” she said. “It helped me develop a tolerance for whatever is happening, and to stay close to the fact that none of us is immune to the cycles of nature, including death.

“If you can sit when it’s uncomfortable — to be able to sit in the unknown — that’s huge.”

While family members may not be at peace with someone’s death, she added, they can be at ease with it as a natural outcome of life.

“One thing I believe firmly is that we know how to do this,” she said. “We know how to die, like every creature of nature does. We just need to get out of our own way.”

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Death is not a failure’: Medical schools adapt end-of-life lessons

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By Lindsay Kalter

Local medical schools are in the process of a curricula revamp that will train students to focus more on end-of-life care, making Massachusetts the first in the nation to reach a statewide commitment to quality of life.

“Massachusetts is really leading the way on this. It led the way on universal health care, on gay marriage, and it’s leading the way on this, too,” said Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and author of the book “Being Mortal.” “I’ve learned the question is not do you fight or do you give up. The question really is, what are we fighting for? What’s the quality of life we can fight for?”

The Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care has orchestrated the effort among four local institutions: Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine and University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Gawande, co-founder of the coalition, said Massachusetts has the opportunity to create a national model for medical schools across the country.

It’s an important shift, he said, from the fix-it mentality that many doctors are taught to possess. He said the extent of his end-of-life training amounted to an hour of discussion in the first two years of medical school.

“You go in focusing on wanting to be a hero and fix things,” Gawande said. “Teaching people in med school what it means to be an effective clinician for giving people cutting-edge care for quality of life — as opposed to quantity of life — is a neglected skill.”

The medical schools are taking inventory of what skills they’re already teaching and will add various training methods including role play patient actors. UMass Medical School’s simulation lab is already starting to be used for skills that extend beyond sewing and suturing, said Dr. Jennifer Reidy, the school’s chief of palliative care.

Medical students will be required to have conversations with people about breaking difficult news, prognosis and end-of-life planning.

“We’re using it to teach complex communication procedures,” Reidy said. “We want to ensure our newest clinicians are well-situated to practice these skills.”

The changes will be implemented in full by the beginning of next academic year, Reidy said.

Tiffany Chen, a third-year medical student at UMass, said the topic of death is still taboo even in the medical field.

“It’s really hard to talk about death, and it’s hard to conceptualize,” Chen said. “But death is not a failure and there’s always something you can do for a patient. If we can infiltrate the medical field with that mindset, we could do a lot of good.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Dying with Dignity: A look at the life of a hospice nurse

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BY ZACK WAJSGRAS

The final months of a person’s life are a confusing time for both the person and his or her family. Not only do final preparations have to be made, but the emotional stress of impending loss leaves many overwhelmed as grief makes tough decisions increasingly onerous.

Often, families seek professional help in the form of assisted living centers to alleviate the burden as their loved ones age. But once a patient receives a diagnosis that he most likely has less than six months to live, a new option becomes available: Hospice care.

Lee Read, a case manager with Hospice of the Piedmont, manages more than two dozen hospice patients at the Greenbrier and Hollymead locations of RoseWood Village Assisted Living centers, most of whom have dementia. Her organization, a community-based non-profit headquartered next to Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, focuses on end-of-life care for patients living all across Central Virginia. Read’s ultimate responsibility, and the company’s vision statement, is to make sure “nobody dies alone or in pain.”

Lee Read speaks on the phone at the RoseWood Village assisted living home on Greenbrier Drive near the nurses work station. Read’s job involves constant calls with doctors, family members of patients, insurers and other Hospice of the Piedmont staff.

In doing that, she manages the medications, equipment orders, triage care, dietary requirements and everything else her patients need to remain comfortable. She also serves as a liaison for the insurance companies, doctors and family members involved with her ever-changing caseload. While most healthcare professionals develop relationships with their clientele, hospice workers watch almost all of their patients die, making the emotional impact an additional challenge.

“I think over time you develop a thick skin,” Read said. “Otherwise, you could take on so much [emotion] that you become almost debilitated or think that you really can solve all those [health] problems, and [you] can’t.”

Dora Goldberg, 90, poses for a portrait at the RoseWood Village assisted living home on Greenbrier Drive after a game of bingo. Goldberg is one of Lee Read’s patients and suffers from dementia, like many of Read’s patients.

Read has a minimum number of required visits for each patient that is based on Medicare requirements, usually ranging from two to four times a week, during which she tracks each patient’s condition and determines what he or she needs. After six months, a patient can recertify if her condition is still declining and their diagnosis is the same, or she can “graduate” if her condition improves. She also works with a team that includes a social worker, a chaplain, certified nursing assistants and supervisors who specialize in different parts of the care process.Once a week, the team meets at the company headquarters to discuss the status of each patient and figure out what needs to be accomplished in the week ahead. Each meeting also includes a moment of silence, after which a ceremonial marble is dropped in a vase for each patient who has died since the last meeting. While it is marbles this time, each year a new symbolic object is chosen.

For Read, hospice was not her first career path. After graduating from William and Mary with a pre-med degree, she pursued a master’s in divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. She then went on to become a chaplain at the University of Virginia and Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge retirement home in Charlottesville.

But two events changed her perspective and led her back to health care. Her father received hospice care at the end of his life, and her 4-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer within a short span of time. Her son survived the disease, but the experience inspired her to go to nursing school. She also completed the majority of the requirements for a degree in social work, giving her formal education in nearly every function her team at Hospice of the Piedmont performs.

Lee Read holds a patients arm in the common room of the RoseWood Village assisted living home at Hollymead Town Center.

Her interest in helping people resulted in a career defined by “moving to different spots around the bed” of her patients, training her to fulfill both their spiritual and healthcare needs.

For Jeannie Holden, whose mother, Dora, is one of Read’s patients, hospice care came in a time of need.

“I can look back at the emotional part of that [decision] and how difficult it was. My mother was in the hospital, and she had sepsis, and we really didn’t think she was going to pull through,” Holden said. “Up until that point, I didn’t know that I really had any options.”

But after discovering Hospice of the Piedmont, that process became much easier.

“From the get-go, the care, the resources, the on call, the always being there from the social worker to their chaplain, [they] let me know they were there for me as well as my mother,” Holden said. “I always think that there’s more that I can do and I always have to be available, and they’ve helped me to realize that I am doing enough.”

For those who might be in a similar position, Holden said, it’s important to know the reality of hospice.

Lee Read (right) speaks on the phone at the foot of Juanita Burke’s, 97, bed at the RoseWood Village assisted living home at Hollymead Town Center. Burke, who had little strength left, died several days later.

“It’s not synonymous with death being imminent, [but] that it is certainly an end-of-life process,” Holden said. “Hospice can help you maneuver through and help you on the path to accepting that a loved one is at their end of life, [and] they help to make that quality of end of life good, to the best that they can.”

Even after dealing with death personally, professionally, theologically and medically, though, Read is still puzzled by life’s biggest questions.

“I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I’m not even that comfortable when I’m around people that have all the answers, whether it’s a religion or even a company. I like the questions and I like looking for the answers together,” she said. “It’s not my death; it’s not my journey. I am privileged to walk on the ground of the sacred journey of whoever is dying, but it’s their death.”

The families she works with often ask many of those same questions, to which she usually says, “I don’t know, but we’ll be here.”

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Hospice is different from palliative care but both are considered ‘comfort care’

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Comfort care at the end of life means managing symptoms, such as pain, anxiety and shortness of breath, says Janet Burda, advance practice nurse at Palos Community Hospital.

By Donna Vickroy

Despite confusion over what exactly constitutes “comfort care,” former first lady Barbara Bush’s decision to opt for it is opening doors onto some very important conversations, according to local end-of-life care experts.

Before she died Tuesday, the 92-year-old Bush had been struggling with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, reports said.

When news broke last Sunday that she was opting for “comfort care” during her final hours, a flurry of questions followed.

Is comfort care not medical care? Is it a form of hospice? A form of palliative care?

Janet Burda, advanced practice nurse with Palos Community Hospital’s Home Health program in Palos Heights, said comfort care is a general term for keeping a patient comfortable at the end of life.

“Doing that means providing medical care to help with symptom management,” said Burda, who works with both hospice and palliative care.

Relieving anxiety, pain and shortness of breath are examples of comfort care, she said.

The other part of comfort care, she said, “is helping relieve anxiety for the caregiver.”

Often caregivers don’t know what to expect at the end of a loved one’s life, Burda said, and they often don’t know how to recognize symptoms of discomfort in a patient who is not able to talk or otherwise communicate. “We can help them with that.”

Palliative or hospice?

Palliative and hospice care both address the physical, emotional, medical, spiritual and psychosocial needs at a vulnerable time in a patient’s life, she said. They differ, Burda said, in terms of when and where they are applied.

Palliative care can begin at diagnosis, while hospice care is relegated to the last six months of life, Burda said.

Rachael Telleen, director of community outreach programs for JourneyCare, a hospice and palliative care organization that hosts presentations across the region including the south suburbs, said, “Palliative and hospice are both considered comfort care.”

Comfort care, she said, “is a term people are using now because it’s easier for doctors to initiate it.”

The word hospice can really scare people, she said. “So, instead, if we can approach the situation using the word ‘comfort,’ people are more accepting and more open to it.”

Telleen said while both palliative and hospice aim to manage pain and symptoms, palliative care is a support that may be provided while a person is still receiving aggressive treatments.

Hospice, on the other hand, is for patients who are no longer receiving aggressive treatments, she said.

“A patient in hospice receives a lot more services,” Telleen said.

Burda said palliative care allows the patient the option of going back and forth to the hospital. It consists of a team in the inpatient world and a team in the community setting, she said. They work alongside an attending physician.

“A person who has cancer and is receiving chemo or radiation can be under palliative care for symptoms such as pain, anxiety, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea,” she said.

“A palliative care team can help manage those symptoms but the patient wouldn’t qualify for hospice because they are not necessarily terminal,” she said. “We’re kind of that stepping stone before hospice.”

While palliative care can go on for an extended period of time, hospice is for patients who are expected to live six months or less, Burda said.

To qualify for hospice, a patient must have a qualifying terminal illness and meet certain criteria, Burda said.

“Old age is not a qualification necessarily,” she said.

All of these options are typically covered by insurance and Medicare, Burda said. Hospice is a Medicare benefit and the components — medications, equipment, physician fees — are typically lumped together.

To some people, Burda said, palliative care sounds better, even if it would be more beneficial for them to be in hospice because of its around-the-clock access to a nurse and symptom care.

“But sometimes that scares people. They don’t want to lose that option to go back to the hospital,” she said. “They are not ready to accept that it is the end.”

Sometimes, she said, she walks people through different scenarios to help them picture what the journey will look like.

“At the beginning the patient could be doing fine. That’s the best time to get hospice involved because they get to know the patient and the caregiver and help them on this journey,” she said.

All end-of-life care should begin with conversation, Burda said.

People should take steps to educate themselves and family members about preferences and options, she said. More information on the Palos program can be found here.

“Talk to your family. Have that critical conversation about what you want the end of your life to look like. That affords you the control,” she said.

“There are people who say they don’t know and don’t care. That’s fine too but then designate someone to make those decisions for you when the time comes that choices need to be made,” she said.

Advanced directives

Telleen said Bush’s death came on the heels of National Healthcare Decisions Day, which was April 16.

She said the former First Lady’s passing has sparked conversation about end-of-life planning.

“We want people to know what they want before they’re in a crisis,” she said. “Making decisions in a crisis is the most challenging time for people to think clearly.”

Telleen said she encourages everyone older than age 18 to think about advanced care planning and to develop an advanced directive.

“That is being prepared in case something happens and you can’t speak for yourself. And that can happen when you’re 20 or 30. It doesn’t just happen to people who have an illness that is progressing. It could happen because of a car accident. It could happen at any point in an unexpected manner,” she said.

“Ask yourself, ‘If I couldn’t speak for myself who do I identify to speak on my behalf and does that person understand what your wishes would be?’” Telleen said.

Telleen said JourneyCare (https://journeycare.org/) provides a free document called Five Wishes available to residents in 10 counties in northeast Illinois to help them make advanced care decisions. For more information, go to journeycare.org/advance-care-planning.

Complete Article HERE!

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Surgery near the end of life is common, costly — and often not what patients want

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By Liz Szabo

At 87, Maxine Stanich cared more about improving the quality of her life than prolonging it.

She suffered from a long list of health problems, including heart failure and chronic lung disease that could leave her gasping for breath.

When her time came, she wanted to die a natural death, Stanich told her daughter, and signed a “do not resuscitate” directive, or DNR, ordering doctors not to revive her should her heart stop.

Yet a trip to a San Francisco emergency room for shortness of breath in 2008 led Stanich to get a defibrillator implanted in her chest — a medical device to keep her alive by delivering a powerful shock. At the time, Stanich didn’t fully grasp what she had agreed to, even though she signed a document granting permission for the procedure, said her daughter, Susan Giaquinto.

That clarity came only during a subsequent visit to a different hospital, when a surprised ER doctor saw a defibrillator protruding from the DNR patient’s thin chest. To Stanich’s horror, the ER doctor explained that the device would not allow her to slip away painlessly and that the jolt would be “so strong that it will knock her across the room,” said Giaquinto, who accompanied her mother on both hospital trips.

Surgery like this has become all too common among those near the end of life, experts say. Nearly 1 in 3 Medicare patients undergo an operation in the year before they die, even though the evidence shows that many are more likely to be harmed than to benefit from it.

The practice is driven by financial incentives that reward doctors for doing procedures as well as a medical culture in which patients and doctors are reluctant to talk about how surgical interventions should be prescribed more judiciously, said Rita Redberg, a cardiologist who treated Stanich when she sought care at the second hospital.

“We have a culture that believes in very aggressive care,” said Redberg, who at the University of California-San Francisco specializes in heart disease in women. “We are often not considering the chance of benefit and chance of harm and how that changes when you get older. We also fail to have conversations about what patients value most.”

While surgery is typically lifesaving for younger people, operating on frail, older patients rarely helps them live longer or returns the quality of life they once enjoyed, according to a 2016 paper in Annals of Surgery.

The cost of these surgeries — typically paid for by Medicare, the government health insurance program for people older than 65 — involve more than money, said Amber Barnato, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Older patients who undergo surgery within a year of death spent 50% more time in the hospital than others and nearly twice as many days in intensive care.

And while some robust octogenarians have many years ahead of them, studies show that surgery is also common among those who are far more frail.

Eighteen percent of Medicare patients have surgery in their final month of life and 8% in their final week, according to a 2011 study in The Lancet.

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A Better Way for Families to Care for Dying People

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Rutgers palliative care expert Judy Barberio gives patients and their families strategies on how to ease the transition to end-of-life care

Although 70 percent of Americans die from chronic disease, most do not make their preferences for end of life care known to their families, leaving loved ones unprepared for their final days. Patients who wish to die at home and who can benefit from palliative or hospice care usually are referred too late – often in the last four weeks of life – to maintain comfort and quality of life and to better prepare for death.

The nation’s aging population is presenting new challenges to terminally ill patients and their loved ones, who must manage chronic pain, disability and questions over when to engage palliative or hospice care, and to health care providers who help them navigate the end stages of life.

To advocate for health care that maximizes quality of life and that minimizes unnecessary suffering in end-of-life care, Rutgers School of Nursing has partnered with Barnabas Health Hospice and the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey Home Care and Hospice to educate nurses, physicians, social workers and other professionals on how to improve the end-of-life experience for patients and their families through the “Hope and Resilience at the End-of-Life” conference in New Brunswick on March 7 and 8.

Judy Barberio, associate clinical professor at Rutgers School of Nursing and one of the conference’s organizers, discusses some of the most pressing issues faced by terminally ill patients and their families.

How can palliative care and hospice improve the quality of life for the terminally ill and their families?

Palliative care assists a person who has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who might die within the next one to two years. It provides an additional layer of support and symptom management as the patient continues with disease-modifying treatment and provides bereavement support for families as well as addresses the patient’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. Studies have shown that people who start palliative care early in the advanced stages of their illness can prolong their lives and have a better quality of life.

Hospice, which is engaged when disease-modifying treatment has ceased, is appropriate when the patient will most likely die within six months and the focus turns to making the patient comfortable and maintaining quality of life.

How can family members help a terminally ill person continue to live a full life with a chronic illness?

People don’t stop being who they are just because they are dying. They can still enjoy a full life by focusing on the small things that make a difference: wearing clothes they love, eating favorite foods, listening to music, reading books and spending time with friends and family.

Palliative care can help by supporting the patients’ family and friends, who often are grieving the illness and eventual loss of their loved one. The team can help family members come to terms with their confusing emotions and understand what the patient is going through. They also help with addressing pain and managing distressing symptoms as a patient goes through treatment and physical decline. They assist patients in expressing their decisions as to the kind of treatment they want at the end of life. They even can help patients live their dreams at a time when they need their dreams the most.

Can pain be controlled when you have a terminal illness?

Pain is one of the most frequent and feared symptoms in advanced disease. For many families, the last memory of their loved one may either be that of a “peaceful” and comfortable transition or that of a painful end. Most pain can be relieved or controlled. Effective pain control requires good communication among patients, caregivers and health care providers. Pain control plans are tailored to meet the patient’s particular needs and are adjusted as these needs change.

How can caregivers and family members combat “compassion fatigue?”

Compassion fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional and physical pain. It is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the caregiver or family’s ability to feel empathy for the patient and can lead to depression and stress-related illness. Signs of compassion fatigue include feelings of exhaustion, reduced ability to feel sympathy or empathy, anger and irritability, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and impaired ability to make decisions and care for the patient. Once compassion fatigue sets in, a caregiver should receive assistance through a health care provider and counseling. Compassion fatigue counseling should screen for and treat depression and secondary traumatic stress as well as provide an early detection system to prevent relapse.

Self-care is the cornerstone of compassion fatigue prevention. Often family members or caregivers put their needs last and feel guilty taking extra time for themselves to engage in stress-reduction strategies, such as exercising, taking a long bath, sleeping well, meditating, doing yoga or getting a massage. It’s important for caregivers and family members to put their own health and wellness at the top of the priority list while caring for loved ones.

Complete Article HERE!

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