For a person with a terminal illness, where and how he or she spends the final months of life are very important decisions. There are a number of different end of life care programs that exist to support and comfort people with incurable conditions. Some focus more on medical treatment, while others address the emotional and spiritual needs of patients. These programs include hospitals, nursing homes, home care, and hospice or palliative care.
There are a number of reasons why people choose inpatient hospitals for their end of life care programs. Often, patients have been in and out of the hospital for previous treatments and have come to trust the medical staff they have interacted with over an extended period of time. Others feel the greatest sense of security knowing that there are qualified professionals available at all times to help control pain and react to any unforeseen circumstances. For many families, the idea of caring for a dying loved one at home is very overwhelming, and they feel that a hospital setting helps alleviate at least some of the stress and anxiety they are experiencing.
For some, the hospital setting seems too impersonal and uncomfortable a place to spend the final days of life. Many people choose to receive care and support in their own homes, where they feel most comfortable and are surrounded by friends and family. Qualified nurses are available to come to the home to dispense medication and monitor the status of the individual. Aides may also come into the house to assist with household chores, bathing and other self-care tasks. Home health care involves actively treating a person's medical condition, but there are other options for those who no longer wish to medically intervene in the progression of their terminal illness.
Hospice programs, also known as palliative care, provide support and comfort to patients without the intention of curing any condition. They are available at inpatient facilities like nursing homes and hospitals as well as at home. In these types of end of life care programs, pain relief can be provided to ease suffering, but the central focus is preparing the individual and his or her family for the time of passing. Many people choose hospice care because they want to have a level of control over their death and to experience the final days without interruption for medical management. In essence, the quality of the final days or months is more important than the quantity.
Most health insurance plans and government-funded medical programs will cover both inpatient treatment and palliative care. Choosing health care for terminal illness is a personal process that can be aided by the support and advice of doctors and family members. It is important that patients and their families discuss wishes for end of life care programs as early as possible to ensure that preparations can be made so that every person can end his or her life with dignity.