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Ensuring the physical well-being of your loved one is just one facet of caring for hospice patients. Hospice patients need to be engaged mentally at whatever level they’re comfortable. These are just some of the comforting activities to help with boredom or loneliness.
A terminal diagnosis can be a terrifying and isolating event. In the early days after diagnosis, some people waiting for their transition often need and desire outside stimulation. Visits from friends and activities can help during these times and there are things that can be comforting and engaging during the wait.
As long as your loved one or patient is still engaging in life, have simple activities that you can enjoy with them. As they get farther into the dying process, they will engage less and less with you and their surroundings. This is normal and necessary, though distressing to everyone watching the process.
Though television is both engaging and distracting, a TV could easily become the only companion or stimulation your loved one has. Just as it’s not a babysitter for children, TV a isn’t an optimal companion for someone who’s dying. Unless, of course, there are other reasons to use the TV for a large part of daily entertainment. My brother didn’t care for silence, so it was preferable to him to keep the TV running 24/7 no matter what else was going on in the room.
Television is a way to keep your patient engaged and keep up with everything that’s going on with the outside world, should they want that. Add a DVD player and watch favorite movies together. This is a good time to look at family videos too and reminisce.
Depending on how your loved one is feeling, artsy-crafty things can be an entertaining way to pass time. Non-messy art projects like colored pencils, coloring books for adults, paper crafts like origami, knitting or crochet if they’re so inclined, something tactile like polymer clay could give them something to focus on.
Simple board or card games can be a fun activity that the patient can work on with their visitors or quality time spent with their caregivers.
Puzzles can be put together on a mobile table, or even online puzzles, though less satisfying than a physical puzzle, can be entertaining.
As long as they can read or have an interest in doing so, make sure they have access to any and all reading materials they want.
If physical books become impossible for them to handle, audible books are perfect, and they’re available for almost any book that’s in print. Even as an adult it’s really cool to have a story read to us once in a while.
Public libraries are a great source for free audible books.
Having a subscription to Audible is wonderful and there’s no waiting for a popular title. Most of the time, books that have been recently published have a considerable waitlist.
If your loved one/patient is up to visits, encourage friends and family to visit. Chronic and terminal illnesses can be isolating. Isolation can lead to or exacerbate depression.
Don’t force people to visit if they’re not comfortable. There are a lot of people who don’t know what to say or do and avoid contact with dying friends and relatives. People have varying levels of comfort visiting when there’s illness present or when someone close to them has changed so much from the person they knew.
Don’t force your patient to have people visit them. Some patients withdraw and don’t want anyone outside the immediate family to visit.
Grab the family photo albums and reminisce with your loved one about their life.
If there are photos online, have a slide show using a computer.
Only do this if they desire it. Truthfully, some people want nothing to do with looking at photos of when they were young and healthy, preferring to live in the present moment rather than reviewing the past.
Massage is a great way to connect as long as it’s tolerated by your patient. Some conditions, such as bedsores, contraindicate massage. Touch is a caring way to make your loved one feel comforted.
Use a light touch and gentle pressure. Find a lotion that’s pleasing to the senses. Regular hand or body lotion will work, there’s no need to find massage lotion.
Hands and feet are the best body parts to massage on a bed-bound person. For someone who’s a little more mobile, neck and shoulders or lower back can be particularly soothing. A lot of people hold most of their tension in those locations.
If they’re in the latter stages, simply sitting and holding their hand lets them know you’re there.
Reading aloud to them is a great way to spend time no matter what stage in the process the patient is going through.
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Playing music in the background can provide a soothing environment. Put on favorite CDs or albums. Play DJ and take requests.
Music can drown out or hide the sounds of medical equipment. My brother’s oxygen generator is loud and it disturbs his sleep, so he always asks for music at night to cover up the sounds.
In the final stages of dying, there can be anxiety present. It can be evident whether the patient is lucid or not. It’s known as terminal anxiety and the medical community is not sure why it happens.
Terminal anxiety is marked by restlessness; random movement; a drive to get out of bed even if they’re not able to support themselves; picking at things with their fingers …
There are strong anti-anxiety drugs that are accessible in Hospice but I’ve found that they only worked to a certain point with my brother. His hands were almost in constant motion.
He’s also a “picker” and if left unattended, he tends to pick at the connectors for his urine bag, the Foley patch adhered to his leg or anything that had a band-aid or skin protecting patch on it. It wasn’t safe or hygienic and caused a lot of care problems including replacing the Foley several times in the middle of the night. As long as his hands were busy, his anxiety levels were lower.
Find what works best for the person you’re caring for. Here are some suggestions of things we tried.
- stuffed animals
- a piece of cloth with various things sewn on tightly; buttons, ribbon, other pieces of cloth with different textures, charms, etc.
- a wooden statue
- a Rubik’s cube or fidget spinner
- anything textured that could keep the fingers engaged.
My brother’s favorite cat liked to lay with him. Occasionally Richard would get a hold of the cat’s leg or tail and that would freak the cat out until we could get something else into his hands.
Chewing also relieves anxiety, but with a chronic or terminal illness, food is sometimes not desired. Chewing gum is contraindicated because it could be aspirated. Never ever leave a patient alone with food that could cause choking.
Anything Gives Comfort and Engages the Attention
There are many more activities that can comfort and engage. Above all, listen to your loved one’s desires and honor them. Let them take the lead and decide how much they want and need.
Enjoy the time you have left and remember, the best comfort you can give is your time and attention.
PS. If you like this article, please see the others in this series: