Palliative Care in Coronavirus: Providing End-of-Life Care at Home

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The elderly population bears the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Apart from further endangering those with existing health conditions, the quarantine makes it difficult for older adults to get the medical attention they need. Social distancing measures have confined people to their homes, which means they can’t readily go to their appointments or check-ups.

End-of-life patients, or people with terminal diseases, are also facing a new set of challenges because of the pandemic. National Health Service (NHS) England published a set of guidelines on community health services amid coronavirus. Because of the extremely high demand in healthcare workforce availability, families are expected to provide end-of-life care at home for relatives with terminal illnesses.

Unless you managed to secure live-in palliative care services before the lockdown, you’ll have to look after your relative yourself. Below are some tips and pointers for helping your terminally ill loved one feel comfortable at home:

Administering medication

Your family member’s medication should come with patient information and instructions that you simply need to follow. But if some directions aren’t clear, call their general practitioner (GP), district nurse, or pharmacist for clarifications.

Be sure to ask critical questions such as:

  • Can I crush a pill to make it easier to swallow?
  • What do I do if they miss a dose?
  • Are there special storage requirements?

If your family member doesn’t want to take the medicine, ask them why. It might be causing uncomfortable side-effects. In this case, ask the district nurse or GP for instructions on what to do.

Maintaining a comfortable environment

nurse talking to old womanYour loved one is likely to spend their days in their bedroom. Fill their room with familiar sensations and sounds, such as their favourite songs, photos, or even a blanket. Keep the environment calm with soft lighting and a comfortable temperature. Avoid crowding the room to keep the patient from getting overwhelmed or anxious.

Schedule relaxing activities. You can play a favourite card game, do breathing exercises, or take them to the garden if the weather is nice.

Providing day-to-day care

An end-of-life patient doesn’t need a full wash each day. Give them a bed bath instead, using a separate washcloth for the upper and lower body. Only expose a few body parts at a time when washing and cover the rest with a towel. This keeps them warm and maintains their dignity.

Terminally ill individuals are likely to lose bladder and bowel control. Keep them comfortable by using equipment, such as a bedpan or urinal, bed pads, waterproof mattress protectors, a commode, or handrails near the toilet. Regularly wash them and change the beddings to keep them feeling fresh.

Arranging palliative care support from specialists

The NHS limits the number of medical professionals entering people’s homes. However, you can still seek healthcare support from community services. Consult your loved one’s GP regarding the needs of the patient. They’ll organise for community or district nurses or a specialist palliative care team to visit and help.

You can also directly contact the local council to ask for support from social services. They’ll arrange a group of carers to come to your home.

Caring for someone who’s nearing the end of their life is extremely challenging — physically, emotionally, and mentally. Focus on making them as comfortable as possible but don’t forget to look after yourself as well. Remember to check with your loved one’s GP regularly to provide updates.

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