It's never easy for a loved one to go into hospice. They may have a serious illness or condition that makes the entire circumstance upsetting or emotional.
Certain times of the year may be more challenging than others, especially for those who enjoy being outside or getting fresh air. Those in hospice may need additional support to get through the cooler winter months so they can stay comfortable during the end of their time on Earth.
What are the challenges of being in hospice during the winter months? What can you do to make the time in hospice easier during this season? Here are some things to keep in mind.
Hospice is challenging any time of year because of the emotions it evokes, but the winter can be particularly hard on everyone involved. Poor weather can make it uncomfortable for those living in hospice, since they can't go outside or enjoy the sunshine as much as usual, and staff members may begin to reflect on the seasons of life, bringing down their moods.
Hospice can be uncomfortable if it's too cold, if seasonal depression kicks in or if challenging weather makes it hard to visit as often as you'd like. There are things you can do to make hospice less challenging in the winter, though.
One of the ways to make winter hospice less challenging is by focusing on getting your loved one into care earlier. According to a report from the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, around 28% of people in hospice were there for seven days or less, which is too short to see the true benefit of the service.
In winter, a short stay in hospice might seem like a good idea, but it can actually interfere with a person's quality of life. A longer stay and better use of hospice services could help your loved one get used to hospice before winter kicks in and feel more relaxed when the season does arrive.
Another way to make hospice more enjoyable in the winter is to increase the frequency of your visits. People may visit someone in hospice for an hour or two in the summer when they can enjoy fresh air and sunshine, but they're less likely to visit in the winter due to rain, snow and poor weather conditions. The poor conditions can make the entire situation feel dreary, making some people want to avoid it completely.
Don't fall into that trap. Those in hospice often feel best when they're surrounded by the people they love. Short visits are appropriate in some cases, but it's helpful to boost their frequency or stay longer to make the winter months more bearable. Visiting regularly during the last few months or weeks of a loved one's life is an irreplaceable gift for both them and you.
Since winter is often bleak and cold, it doesn't hurt to add fun, comforting decorations to a room. The goal of hospice is to help people transition out of this life as easily as possible, and being surrounded by seasonal decor or their own belongings can be soothing.
Consider adding decorations like photographs or stuffed toys, favorite blankets or colorful holiday decorations. You want your loved one to feel connected, even as they start on the path to departing this world.
Keeping your loved one comfortable during the winter months means focusing on their needs. Going into hospice early, as mentioned above, helps make the transition more peaceful with medical support in place, but those kinds of care come nearer to death.
You can take steps to make hospice more comfortable for your loved one when they're in the early stages — before a major decline — by bringing them warm clothing, making their chair or bed as soft and relaxing as possible and having a massage therapist or alternative therapist provide relaxing massages or therapies like foot soaks to ease pain and discomfort.
Winter hospice doesn't have to be uncomfortable. Talk to your loved one about the things they'd like to have with them and discuss what would make them happiest. A simple conversation may open up a world of possibilities for keeping them feeling comfortable as they approach the end of their life.
Consider starting hospice early, visiting often and making sure your loved one has the comfort items and support they need. By surrounding them with love, patience and kindness, you'll be offering the best care there is at the end of anyone's time on Earth.