hospiceWhen a family member moves into a hospice situation that is coupled with the heart-wrenching difficulties of dementia, it is a challenge not only for the caregivers but for the family as well. Its one thing to know that hospice is implemented only at the final stages of life, but it can be exhausting and emotionally trying as loved ones try to engage their family member with dementia while being part of the process that seeks to bring them peace and comfort in their final days.

For many, it is still unclear what hospice is. Hospice care is a specialized care that is designed to provide support for families during an advanced illness. Hospice care generally is focused on comfort and quality of life rather than cure because of advancement or degree of illness. The goal of hospice care is to enable the patient to have an alert, pain-free life and to live each day as fully as possible. It is a life-affirming manner of care and views death as a natural process.

Involved in hospice is the concept of palliative care which focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress of a serious illness. In the case of hospice patients dealing with dementia, this means finding ways to assist them emotionally and intellectually, not just dealing with the physical pain that might require care via medications.

Here are some tips for families to be a part of the care process in a hospice environment:

  1. Set a positive mood for interaction.  Set a positive mood by speaking to your loved one in a pleasant and respectful manner. Be deliberate about using facial expressions, vocal tones and physical touch to help show your love and affection.
  2. Get the person’s attention. Limit distractions and noise, create quieter surroundings. Identify your loved one by name and relation, and use nonverbal cues and touch to help keep her focused. Eye contact also helps tremendously.
  3. State your message clearly. Use simple words and sentences, avoid complexities while speaking slowly and in a comforting tone. Avoid raising your voice higher or louder. Don’t be afraid to rephrase questions or statements when necessary.
  4. Ask simple, answerable questions. Ask questions that allow for one word responses. Visual prompts may also help clarify your question and can guide a response.
  5. Listen with your Heart. Be patient in waiting for your loved one’s reply.It is okay to suggest words if your loved one is struggling to respond.
  6. Distract and Redirect. If your loved one is upset, change the subject or activity in the room.
  7. Respond with affection and Comfort. People with dementia will often feel confused, anxious and unsure of everything. They may recall things that never really occurred, but you need to avoid the tendency to correct. Stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating which are very real. Respond with expressions of comfort and support.
  8. Remember the Past. Remembering the past can often a soothing activity. Many people with dementia may not remember what happened 45 minutes ago, but they can clearly recall their lives 45 years earlier. Avoid asking questions that rely on short-term memory, instead, mention things about the person’s distant past.