In cases of terminal illness, there comes a point when it makes sense to change the treatment approach to one of making the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible as they approach the end of life. This stage of treatment, known as “end-of-life care,” can last for weeks, months, or even years.

During this stage, the focus of medical interventions is on controlling pain, nausea, and breathing difficulties. Just as important as treating these physical symptoms is providing emotional and spiritual support, both to the patient and to the family.

How do you know when it’s time for end-of-life care?

The guidelines for making the decision to move to end-of-life care are fluid and depend on the individual patient, their condition, and how it is advancing.

Some signs that indicate it may be time to consider end-of-life care include:

  • The patient’s condition is getting significantly worse to the point that it’s impacting their quality of life.
  • They have made several trips to the ER to get their condition stabilized.
  • They don’t want to be in the hospital for lengthy periods of time.
  • They no longer wish to undergo treatments for their disease.

What does end-of-life care include?

Approaching the end of life is a difficult transition and it often brings with it a set of complex needs.

Practical care 

The patient will usually require assistance with the tasks of daily life, including bathing, eating, and getting dressed. In-home care is an option worth considering, since caring for a loved one’s basic needs can be overwhelming for family members to handle on their own.

Emotional care
Whatever the state of the patient’s cognitive function or memory, they still have the ability to feel  a range of emotions, including fear and anxiety, so it’s important to prioritize their peace, comfort, and dignity. Creating a soothing and relaxing environment and providing opportunities for meaningful connections with others is key at this stage of treatment.

Spiritual care

Preparing for the end of life can bring up a lot of existential questions and anxiety for both the patient and the family. Having access to grief counselors, spiritual advisors, hospice chaplains, and religious clergy, when appropriate, can be an immense source of comfort and guidance.