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Preparing for Loss: Death Dying and Grieving

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By: Lakelyn Hogan, MA, MBA, Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate, Home Instead Senior Care

In the wake of COVID-19, society may be dealing with various types of loss. We could be feeling the loss of social interactions, the absence of small things we once took for granted, or the passing of loved ones or friends. And while losses like these are inevitable, they aren’t easy to think or talk about.

A recent study found that older adults are more comfortable planning for their funeral than the years leading up to it. Caregivers are also hesitant to have these tough discussions with loved ones. The same study found that 90 percent of people feel it is important to talk to their loved one about end-of-life care, but only 27 percent have actually taken the time to do so.

Experts suggest five important conversations that people should be having about end-of-life. Below are the discussion topics to consider. It is important to document these conversations by creating an advance directive and designating a health care proxy or durable power of attorney for health care.

Five Important End-of-Life Planning Conversations to Have

  • Make sure everyone understands what your loved one wants. It is important not to make assumptions and to understand the individual’s end-of-life preferences. This can help family avoid potential conflicts down the road.
  • Find out what medical options are available. The medical community is an important resource for end-of-life conversations. Take time to fully understand the senior’s medical condition and the treatment options available. 
  • Discuss financial goals. Be sure to understand what financial resources are available to the older adult and to understand what end-of-life care needs will be covered by Medicare.
  • Engage a spiritual advisor for emotional support. Conversations with pastors, priests and spiritual advisors provide both comfort and clarity when end-of-life is near.
  • Share wishes with the care team. If the older adult is working with a medical team, living in a care community or having care professionals coming into the home, it’s helpful to keep them up-to-date on aspects of conversations that relate to care.

These important conversations should include options for end-of-life care. Individuals and their families often fail to consider these care options until they’re needed. By planning ahead, you can aid in the decision-making process when end-of-life support is necessary.

Options for End-of-Life Care

  • Hospice care – Hospice is a philosophy of care delivered at home or in a facility setting. Hospice provides the individual with medical care and equipment, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support. It also offers support to the family.
  • Palliative care – The goal of palliative care is to improve symptoms, relieve pain and reduce stress when someone is experiencing serious illness. There is typically a transition to hospice care when the person is no longer receiving curative treatment.  
  • Family caregivers – Family members often take on daily care responsibilities at end-of-life, such as personal care, household tasks, medical and nursing tasks and medication management. Families can bring in additional help, such as respite or home care services, to support these tasks.
  • Respite – Respite provides family caregivers the opportunity to take much needed time away from care responsibilities. These breaks allow for self-care and the opportunity to recharge. Respite can be provided by hospice volunteers, family, friends or home care professionals.
  • Home care – Home care services are provided by trained professionals who can support both the individual who is dying and the family. Home care can ease the burden of family caregivers by assisting with hands on personal care, medication management, and everyday tasks, such as meal preparation or housekeeping.

No matter how prepared you can be for loss, it is still difficult to experience the passing of a loved one. Feelings of grief are completely normal and natural. The widely known Kübler-Ross grief cycle is depicted below.

Understanding the Grief Cycle

There are five general stages of grief according to Kübler-Ross -- denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Stages do not always occur in order and some last longer than others. A person may not experience all stages. If feelings of loss become overwhelming or unmanageable, it is important for individuals to seek support. Hospice agencies generally offer bereavement programs to support families after loss. Individuals can also reach out to a counselor or health care provider for support.

Watch this webinar to learn more about how professionals can support individuals and family caregivers as they prepare for loss.  You will earn one free Continuing Education (CE) credit*. You can also find more resources on planning for end-of-life at ComposeYourLifeSong.com. To learn more about how home care services can support families at end-of-life, visit www.HomeInstead.com.

*CE credits are only available for 60 days following the live webinar event.

Last revised: May 8, 2020

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