While it is a sensitive subject, it’s vital to discuss end-of-life care as early as possible with your loved one, says Michael Beresford, Learning & Development Manager for SweetTree Home Care’s Training Academy

The prospect of death can be an uncomfortable subject for many, but it is so important to think about it when someone you love is nearing the end of their life. Planning ahead in this way – sometimes called palliative care or advanced care planning – involves talking with your loved one about how they wish to be cared for in the final weeks or months of their life. When it comes to those living with dementia, it is common for symptoms to deteriorate over time, meaning it is often a good idea to discuss their end-of-life wishes with them well in advance of their condition worsening.

As head of SweetTree Care Training Academy, I teach others in domiciliary care the importance of providing quality end-of-life care. However, it wasn’t until I experienced this situation as a relative that I truly understood its value, fuelling my passion to help others receive the best-possible care at the end of their lives. In 2011, I was able to turn my professional experience into a life-changing moment, when my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

It felt empowering knowing I would be able to relieve some of the stress from my family. Before doing anything, I spoke to my grandfather about how he felt and what he wanted. He made it clear he didn’t want to go into hospital, so in order to respect his wishes, I made several changes to his care plan, in order to keep him comfortable and at home. This involved contacting the out-of-hours team and a doctor, as well as training other family members in basic moving and handling techniques, as well as arranging for a profiling bed with an air mattress to be delivered.

We then removed unnecessary furniture and clutter from his room, to make it easier for friends and family to visit him. Music and family had always been a very important part of his life, so we brought pictures of our grandmother and our family into the room, so he could see them from his bed, and had his favourite classical music playing gently in the background. Over the coming weeks we were all able to spend quality time with him. He died at home tucked up in his bed, pain-free, with his family at his bedside and my mum holding his hand.

This experience served as a powerful reminder to me that everyone deserves dignity and respect at the end of their life, and I am now dedicated to helping others achieve the same for their own family members. If you are caring for a loved one who is reaching the end of their life, do seek help and advice from their GP and other professionals – but most importantly, talk openly to your loved one sooner rather than later, to enable you to carry out their wishes.

I’d strongly recommend drawing up an advance care plan with your loved one, allowing them to still maintain control over their care at the end of their life. While it’s clearly an emotive subject, it’s worth discussing as soon as possible. Bear in mind that many people would prefer to spend their final days at home, with family and friends around them. This is usually possible with the right support structures in place.

When those final weeks or days do arrive, it can be easy to feel helpless, but remember there is a lot you can do to help ease any suffering. Talk to your GP, or hospital staff if appropriate, to help design a strategy to make them as comfortable as possible, and also to ensure there is a plan in place for pain management. Hold the person’s hand and talk to them. Hearing is said to be the last sense to go, so they may find your voice soothing or perhaps listening to some soft familiar music. You may also consider the use of complementary therapies such as aromatherapy which can have a calming and relaxing effect. Importantly, remember that in most cases your presence will be the greatest comfort to your loved one.

About Michael
Michael Beresford has 17 years’ experience in healthcare management, multiple qualifications in teaching and an HND in health and social care. Responsible for the identification, design and implementation of all training and development courses, Michael strives to ensure all SweetTree team members achieve their full development potential. For more information, please visit www.sweettree.co.uk

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