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Another Voice: Hospice, palliative care cover broad range of conditions

By Dr. Richard Castaldo

As the holidays approach, hospice and palliative care professionals and volunteers can reflect on another dedicated year of providing specialized services for patients and personalized support for families and caregivers faced with late-stage illnesses across the Buffalo Niagara region.

Each year, nearly 1.5 million people in the United States receive hospice care, and almost 50 percent of Medicare enrollees are in a hospice program at the time of their death.

Since former President Jimmy Carter first issued a proclamation in 1979 recognizing the value of hospice, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month as been commemorated in November. Forty years later, this distinction continues to highlight the growth of hospice and the benefits it provides.

This recognition also shines a light on the half-million professionals and volunteers nationwide who contribute their expertise in medical, emotional, spiritual and social services to patients and families. They are committed to delivering care and dignity at the most challenging times while ensuring families have all the information to navigate end-of-life care.

Hospice care takes place wherever an individual lives, including family homes, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, while palliative care occurs in homes and assisted living facilities.

At hospice, patients are not defined by their diagnosis; he or she is treated as a unique person who seeks symptom management and comfort. Hospice takes a comprehensive approach in treating the patient and family as one unit and customizing the plan for each person’s needs and challenges. Any type of terminal illness can qualify an individual for hospice, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia conditions that are becoming more prevalent.

Palliative care is another vital component of the continuum of symptom management services available to people with a serious, chronic illness. This program helps patients maintain their quality of life and enables the transition to hospice when the time is right.
When people look back on their hospice experience for a loved one, the sentiment that is often expressed is they wish they had called sooner. Hospice professionals are always willing to have early discussions to assess a prognosis and evaluate options and eligibility.

Even if the time may not be right, clinical staff will follow up on a patient’s status and symptoms that can compound to yield a significant decline in managing daily living activities. Admitting patients sooner in the illness progression can provide a longer-term plan to alleviate discomfort and maximize the valuable time left.

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Dr. Richard Castaldo is the medical director at Niagara Hospice.

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