House Calls: There is help to deal with end of a life

By Melissa Ford December 05, 2011 10:39 am

House Calls runs every other Thursday. Today’s column is written by Melissa Ford, clinical director of Sutter Coast Home Care.

Emptiness, sadness, anxiety, and anger; these are just some of the emotions that a person may experience when facing a life-threatening illness or the loss of a loved one.

It is helpful to know what to expect, how to care for your loved one, and what to do when you think you can no longer go through the process alone.

It is not easy to specify exactly what will happen during the end of life process, as each person is unique. Sometimes the news of a life-threatening illness is sudden, and other times it is expected.

You may notice that your loved one is not as active, may seem more tired and begin sleeping more than usual. He or she may also stop eating and drinking as much as in the past. This is a normal part of the dying process. It is always best to have your primary physician assess your loved one to ensure that there is nothing else that should be addressed. The provider can also then refer you to the appropriate resources.

The most important part of taking care of your loved one is to ensure comfort and dignity during the dying process.  It is also a great idea to have your loved one complete an “advanced directive” or a POLST (Physician’s Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) before becoming unable to communicate. This will help you to ensure that you are doing exactly what your loved one would want in regards to any treatment.  

Different diseases produce different symptoms, and managing these symptoms is an important part of making sure your loved one is comfortable. Pain, nausea, and constipation are the more frequent symptoms a person who is diagnosed with cancer may experience; while shortness of breath and fluid overload are more common in patients with end-stage congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Again it is important to have your loved one’s primary physician  help ensure that these symptoms are managed effectively.

Often families and friends can become overwhelmed as the transition progresses, and do not know where to turn. If you begin to feel overwhelmed you can ask your loved one’s primary physician to refer you to the appropriate resources, which may include Home Health and the Advanced Illness Management (AIM) program.

Sutter Coast Home Care’s AIM program’s mission statement reads: “We at Sutter Coast Home Care affirm life and regard dying as a natural process.  We do not believe in hastening or postponing death.  We do believe that through personalized services and a caring team, patients and families can attain the preparation necessary for death that meets their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.”

There are other resources that are available to help during this difficult time and your loved one’s physician or home health agency can ensure that your loved one has everything needed to die comfortably and with dignity.

It is important to have a basic idea of what to expect, how to care for your loved one, and what to do when you think you have reached your limit. With the right tools and knowledge base, hopefully the emptiness, sadness, loneliness, anxiety and anger can be turned into acceptance, empowerment, well being, and satisfaction that your loved one passed away with as much comfort and dignity as possible.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it