In some ways it seems counterintuitive. Caring for someone round-the-clock at home during the final stages of cancer must take its toll. Right?
But according to a new study, caring for a loved one at home with the help of hospice might lessen your grief and emotional turmoil during the months following death.
In this study, researchers looked at family caregivers whose loved ones died either at home with hospice or in the hospital. Caregivers whose loved ones died in the hospital were 5 times more likely to experience posttraumatic stress disorder, and much more likely to experience prolonged grief.
Quality of life for the patients who died in the hospital was also poorer, and they experienced more emotional and physical distress.
Sitting at a table discussing this with our About.com Guide to Patient Empowerment who "gets it" from the patient and family's perspective, we talked about the reasons this makes sense. Rather than bringing up esoteric theoretical points, her comments made me step back into my shoes as I cared for a dying loved one in my home. What was that like?
Was I exhausted? Of course. Were there times I panicked and second-guessed myself? Of course. But the adjustment later on? I'm sure some relatives thought my mother and I a tad loony as we raised our hands in a "high 5" saying "We Did It!" only hours after the death. But that inner feeling of peace lingered in the ensuing months.
I'd be pretty callous and short-sighted to assume that caring for someone dying at home works for everyone. The last thing I want this study to support is a guilt trip. My experience is isolated, and studies are simply statistics. For some people, the hospital might be more comfortable all the way around. The important thing is to think about what will be best for you and your loved one, and to be true to yourself.
- What Can I Expect in the Final Stages of Lung Cancer
- Grief and Mourning: What's Normal and What's Not?
- What is Hospice Care?
Wright, A. et al. Place of Death: Correlations With Quality of Life of Patients With Cancer and Predictors of Bereaved Caregivers' Mental Health. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Published online before print September 13, 2010. doi::10.1200/JCO.2009.26.3863.