What Is End of Life Support?

Laura M. Sands

End of life support is the care and assistance given to patients facing a terminal illness. This type of focused support is also extended to a patient’s family members and loved ones. Some of the elements of end of life support include assuring that a patient is as comfortable as possible and educating patients and families about what to expect during the final stages of life. End of life planning also involves individuals helping families make memorial and burial arrangements before death occurs to ease the burden of having to make such arrangements after a loved one has passed away.

End of life support is given to people facing a terminal illness.
End of life support is given to people facing a terminal illness.

Also known as palliative care, end of life support is commonly associated with hospice facilities. Nursing homes and visiting nurses also offer end of life support. Regardless of where it is administered, this type of support always involves patients who are most certainly about to die as the result of a terminal illness. With end of life help, patients and their families are encouraged to spend quality time together while providers help each person understand and accept what is taking place.

End of life support may be extended to a terminally ill patient's family members.
End of life support may be extended to a terminally ill patient's family members.

Registered nurses specializing in end of life nursing are often employed by a hospice, a visiting nurse’s association or an end of life clinic. Others who offer comfort, however, include volunteers and end of life support group members. Hospitals sometimes offer referrals for patients who need an end of life program. When available, free end of life support may also be offered.

End-of-life support often includes making arrangements for one's funeral or burial ahead of time.
End-of-life support often includes making arrangements for one's funeral or burial ahead of time.

Individuals who are nearing death are likely to experience a myriad of emotions. End of life support is, therefore, administered by nurses as a way to ease tension and anxiety. In this process, nurses offer compassionate care by making sure patients are as physically comfortable as possible. Doing so may include administering prescription pain medications, but also involves talking with patients and helping them face the inevitable.

Nurses offering end of life support also extend their services to family members and friends of a dying patient. This type of care is designed around the idea that understanding the process of dying and having supportive professionals assist with arrangements and communication can help ease the stressful process for all involved. Often, family members and other loved ones do not readily understand the physical and cognitive changes that may take place as a person reaches his or her final days. As such, death can sometimes seem sudden and loved ones often feel unprepared to cope with it. Through the efforts of professionals offering end of life care and support, loved ones can learn to recognize changes in consciousness and cognition as well as physical changes, such as abnormal breathing patterns, that are common end of life symptoms.

Patients who are uncomfortable with the hospital environment may choose to receive end of life care in their own homes.
Patients who are uncomfortable with the hospital environment may choose to receive end of life care in their own homes.

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