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Provide meaning to patients referred at end-of-life
Gentle words, life validation make a difference
Hospices are increasingly referred patients who are within days or hours of dying, making it much more challenging to provide meaningful services and end-of-life opportunities for resolution.
However, there still is a way for hospice social workers, bereavement counselors, and others to reach dying patients, even when they are nonresponsive.
"We have a great many patients who come to hospice late and average a length-of-stay of maybe two or three days," says Kevin Henry, MEd, MSW, bereavement care counselor and counselor for Forbes Hospice in Pittsburgh, PA. Henry spoke about life validation with the minimally-responsive end-of-life patient at the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) conference, held July 30 through Aug. 1, 2007, in Albuquerque, NM. It was titled, "Caring for Mind, Body, and Spirit: Psychosocial, Bereavement & Spiritual Needs at End-of-Life."
"Many of these patients are minimally responsive," Henry says. "They receive exquisite physical care and pain management and other traditional hospice services."
But what they might lack is validation, having someone tell them that their lives were meaningful, he says.
Many hospice professionals suspect that the minimally-responsive patients are still able to hear what others say, Henry notes.
"There's no research to back this up because people don't do research on language processing of people on their death bed — it's too intrusive," he says. "However, there is enough anecdotal evidence among those of us who do this work to suggest that they are hearing everything that is going on."
Exceptions would be people with brain stem disorders and hearing impairments, Henry notes.
Dying patients often want to know, even when they can't express it, whether their lives made a difference and that they have left a legacy for others, Henry says.
"And there's no reason why people who are minimally responsive cannot be reassured that it is so," he adds.
This is why Henry has made it his mission to provide end-of-life patents with a compassionate voice and loving tone that validates who they are and how they will be remembered.
Henry provides these suggestions for how this validation can be provided to minimally-responsive patients: