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Raising awareness of the benefits of hospice and palliative care

  • Courtesy photo

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and hospice and palliative care programs throughout the country are reaching out to help people understand all that hospice and palliative care offer.

“Many people still struggle with understanding the differences and similarities between the two types of care,” explains Hawaii Care Choices’ CEO Brenda S. Ho.

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They both are about relieving pain and discomfort and improving quality of life.

Palliative care can be something that happens early on if someone has a chronic illness and desires curative treatments. Hospice care is for those at the end of life, who have a terminal illness, and want to improve the quality of their remaining time with comfort measures.

“Ending well means thinking about what is important to us years before we begin our final journey,” Ho said.

Hospice care was created for those with an incurable or terminal illness still wanting to live their best possible life. Hospice allows patients to go through their natural disease process, free from medical interventions that often cause more suffering than cure.

A benefit covered by most insurances, hospice care is affordable and the only Medicare benefit that includes medications, medical equipment and 24/7 access to care. Typically, the patient and family pay nothing.

Current patient Betty Pa shared how surprised she was to be getting “all these things for free,” such as oxygen and a wheelchair.

She is grateful for the support because, “I would’ve had all those bills to pay for on my own, so hospice has saved me a lot of money and time.”

Patients and families can receive care for six months or longer, starting with diagnosis. The earlier hospice care is accessed, the earlier it can make a positive difference.

Contrary to old beliefs that calling hospice will hasten one’s death, it’s quite the opposite.

Research shows that the early support and comfort provided by hospice care often helps patients live longer and have a better quality of life.

“Caregivers are taught essential techniques like how to give a bed bath or turn a loved one in bed to avoid bed sores and are supported by having a trained volunteer stay with the patient, while the caregiver gets much-needed rest,” explains Hawaii Care Choices’ registered nurse Julia Lindbergh. “Learning how to give all medications properly or having someone to call 24/7 are some of the ways that ease caregiver anxiety and stress,”

“My only regret is that we had not been referred sooner,” says Judy Blankenfeld, mother of hospice patient Kim. “I hadn’t even thought that we should reach out, so that would be my one thing to somebody in our situation, because hospice has such great support, for both family and patient.”

Palliative care is not the same as hospice, Lindbergh said.

“Palliative care focuses on relief from physical and emotional suffering, offering guidance towards living as well and as fully as possible, for those challenged with serious illnesses such as cancer, advanced congestive heart failure, COPD and kidney failure,” she said. “We want to empower the patient to know if they do A, this is what is going to happen; if they do B, this is what is going to happen — how to feel better and live a longer life.”

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For more information about Hawaii Care Choices’ continuum of services, call 969-1733 or visit www.hawaiicarechoices.org.

You also can support palliative and hospice care on the Big Island by donating at the register throughout November at KTA Super Stores locations islandwide.