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When you have a loved one under Hospice care, there are many ways to make them comfortable and give comfort to ease the dying process. Read on for things to keep on hand and ways to add physical comfort care to end of life care in your home.
In my last post, Home Hospice Caregiver’s Toolkit, I went into the background of how I came to be a caregiver for my brother and the basic items that are in my day to day ‘toolkit’ to care for him with more ease. Basic supplies to have on hand so you don’t run around the house looking for you need. Having the basics on hand really helps. In the early days of caregiving for both a sister and this brother, I would run the house like a chicken with my head cut off. Funny, at times, but definitely not efficient.
Hospice and end of life caregiving
Having a hospice program backing you up means that critical care is only a phone call away. Just having a team that you can call 24/7 takes much of the worry away. This leaves room for palliative care on your part. End of life care can be an opportunity to connect more deeply with the person under your care. If they’re out of pain and can communicate, talk with them, listen to them and enjoy your time left with them.
There are many types of comfort that you can bring to their lives, physical and emotional comfort among them. Love is a basic human need and a comforting, caring touch conveys love better than any other way in this season.
Here are some things I keep on hand to make my brother more physically comfortable and engaged while we’re on the long wait.
Comfort Care Items
Keep a nice body lotion handy. Skin dries out quickly under most circumstances, but during the dying process, I’ve noticed that it dries out so much faster. It also comes in handy for hand and foot rubs to comfort your loved one. Choose one with a nice scent or properties that are best suited for your patient’s needs. My brother happens to like the St. Ives with avocado oil and vitamin E.
Other lotions to consider are a specialized foot lotion with some peppermint in it, a thicker massage cream for delicate skin, and a warming cream for areas where muscles hurt. Bengay will do, but dilute it with a non-scented natural cream, 1 part Bengay to 2 or 3 parts cream.
Notes about aging skin and massage
Take care and use a light touch with aging skin. Skin thins out considerably in older patients and becomes more fragile.
Gently massaging legs will help with fluid retention around the ankles and aid with circulation. If there is fluid retention, make sure you use upward strokes only and again, a lighter touch. In cases where fluids are built up, they sometimes seep through the skin. This is normal and usually prevalent with certain types of conditions.
Massaging hands will give your patient a sense of deep connection with you.
Our Hospice provider has Certified Nurses Assistants that will come in multiple days of the week to help my brother shower and wash his hair. However, he’s still at the stage where he wants to maintain control over his own hygiene. On the days when a shower is too much, he’ll run some dry shampoo through his hair.
Dry Shampoo is now very easy to find and almost every shampoo/conditioner line has its own version.
For anyone with longer hair that wants to keep it that way, have some soft things around to keep it tied back and comfortable … soft hair band, bandanas, hair ties, etc.
Tweezers, nail scissors, pedicure tools
My brother loves to have his feet massaged and his nails clipped. My older sister also liked this before she passed away. Be very careful while cutting nails.
I recommend getting a good one. I tested out a few on my skin and found a reasonably priced one that wasn’t “bitey” and came with attachments. My brother was always impeccably groomed and he really likes to still look neat and trimmed. Wahl makes a very inexpensive trimmer with guards of different sizes. The last one my brother had lasted 10 years, impressive.
You’d think this one would be obvious, but after my brother entered hospice I discovered that he only had one set of sheets left, he’d discarded all his old ones when he bought a new set. The very first “incident” showed me how necessary it is to have extras.
Get additional flat sheets, one of these under a bedridden patient’s backside helps get them slid up or down to a different position without creating friction and bedsores. It also helps with changing sheets as it makes your loved one easy to maneuver.
Keep extra blankets and afghans handy. They can be used for positioning the person in your care and they will often experience temperature changes.
Large Bath Sheets are also used to line the bed during a bed bath, to put under the patient to help them slid without causing bed sores, and they can also be rolled up and used as bolsters under and between knees.
A good supply of hand towels and wash clothes help for between shower bed baths.
Water Proof Mattress Pad
Look for a high-quality pad that is waterproof on the mattress and top sides. This type doesn’t stain easily, never has to come off, and only needs a quick wipe down with wipes between each sheet change. An electric mattress pad is a bad idea and could cause burns.
We’ve needed extra pillows many times. They’re necessary when a bedridden patient needs small incremental changes to their position or needs to be positioned in a certain way to avoid pain. They also make a good padding for beds with rails. Placing two or three under the knees also help keep a bedridden patient from sliding down too much. Specially sized pillows also help keep a patient positioned comfortable, neck pillows in particular.
If the patient is going to be bedridden for months or years, companies that specialize in massage therapy equipment have pillow/foam body cushion systems that allow for a variety of positional changes. Massage Warehouse is my favorite and their products are also carried on Amazon.
Egg Crate Cushions
These also work well for padding and cushioning in beds, chairs, wheelchairs, cars, etc. They are very flexible and versatile.
Even though I addressed it in the Caretaker’s Toolkit, Moleskin deserves a big place in the Comfort Care toolkit too. Anywhere there’s chafing from medical devices, Moleskin fixes the issue a good percentage of the time. So soft, so comfortable, and it stays in place like a dream.
The Best Comfort Item of All
Having you there is the biggest comfort that a dying loved one can have. Even if you’re in the same room with them, they know and they are comforted. My brother likes it when I just sit and watch TV with him. Hold their hands, make contact, and let them know that you’re with them on this journey.
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