MARTHA KESSLER: Hospice Solutions for Alzheimer’s Focus on Patients and Families, 
Not the Disease

By  //  August 13, 2019

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When is it time for hospice?

Here’s a health question for Space Coast Daily subscribers: What is the most expensive disease in America, costing more than heart disease and cancer?

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Here’s a health question for Space Coast Daily subscribers: What is the most expensive disease in America, costing more than heart disease and cancer?

The answer: Alzheimer’s disease, according to Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM), which notes that the cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is estimated to reach $290 billion in 2019, two-thirds of it borne by Medicare and Medicaid.

Alzheimer’s and dementia also rank third, behind cancer and heart disease, for referrals to hospice, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s 2018 fact sheet. Currently, about 5.8 Americans live with Alzheimer’s, a number expected to rise to 14 million by 2050. 

Hospice care focuses on patients, families

While treatments remain elusive, hospice specialists at VITAS® Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, understand that managing symptoms, addressing pain and focusing on quality of life are the foundations of end-of-life care for Alzheimer’s patients and their families/caregivers.

Timely referral to hospice, in fact, can avoid crises and provide extra layers of support for families and caregivers as they navigate a loved one’s final months, weeks and days.

When is it time for hospice?

Typically, Alzheimer’s patients are eligible for hospice care when they become uncommunicative and need help with daily activities–moving, bathing, dressing, feeding and toileting.

They might also have other underlying illnesses or diseases (e.g., lingering infections, pressure sores, heart disease, lung disease) or weight loss due to difficulty eating, swallowing or drinking.

VITAS develops an individualized hospice care plan, which provides:

  • Medical support, including regular visits from an interdisciplinary hospice team (physician, nurse, hospice aide, social worker, chaplain and volunteer) and all medications, supplies and equipment related to the hospice diagnosis.
  • Emotional and spiritual support, including connections to community resources, caregiver support groups and a hospice bereavement specialist.
  • Comfort-focused patient interventions (e.g., music therapy, pet visits, hand massages, aromatherapy).
  • Caregiver education and training on topics ranging from pressure sores and confusion to anxiety, falls, fevers and difficulty swallowing.
  • Advance care planning and advance directives, including creation of living wills, do-not-resuscitate orders and Five Wishes® documents to clarify plans and avoid crises when difficult end-of-life decisions must be made.
  • 24/7 support from Telecare, a VITAS service staffed by trained clinicians who can answer questions around the clock or dispatch a team member to a patient’s bedside, when necessary.
  • Respite care, in which Alzheimer’s patients can stay up to 5 days and nights in a certified inpatient unit or facility to give caregivers a break.

Wrote one grateful adult son about the hospice care VITAS provided to his mother in her final days of Alzheimer’s:

“Everyone took such good care of my mom and gave much comfort to my dad and me. We are forever grateful for all of the VITAS staff who helped my mom leave peacefully and with dignity.”

Martha Kessler is the patient care administrator for VITAS Healthcare in Brevard County. For more information about end-of-life care options, call VITAS Healthcare at 866-759-6695 or visit VITAS.com

WATCH: VITAS Healthcare Celebrates Grand Opening of Hospice Inpatient Center at RockledgeRelated Story:
WATCH: VITAS Healthcare Celebrates Grand Opening of Hospice Inpatient Center at Rockledge

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