Having a loved one in hospice care is never easy. Caring for someone with a serious illness brings on all kinds of emotions and can be challenging in unexpected ways. In order to provide the very best care and to support them in the best ways, it’s important to be aware of what hospice care entails and what to expect so that caretakers can maintain the strength needed to be there for them. One particularly challenging part of hospice for patients is the wintertime. Winter months bring cold, rain and snow, and hospice patients are often trapped inside without sunlight for weeks at a time. This can lead to seasonal depression and feelings of helplessness and sadness. It’s helpful to be aware of some of the ways that family members can support a loved one in hospice during the winter months in order to keep them as comfortable as possible and to help them get the most out of their final days/weeks/months despite the change in weather.
Visit More Often
During the warmer months, patients who are able to be active usually have more opportunities to get outside and participate in activities that can lift their spirits. If possible, caretakers should try to visit a patient more regularly during the winter months so that they have more scheduled activities in their days. Planning out a visiting schedule can help give them something to look forward to and can make a big difference in their lives.
Decorate Their Rooms
Rooms can feel a little bleak without the bright sunshine beaming in. Think about ways to decorate their rooms so that they feel cheerier and brighter. This could be hanging photos of friends and family where they can see them or hanging up bright objects such as balloons and other decorations. It’s always nice for patients to have flowers around as well — make sure to refresh them often so they are always full of life.
Provide Games and Distractions
Even when a caretaker can’t be present with a loved one, they can still give them gifts that can help distract them during downtime. Puzzles, books, audiotapes, games, videos and other types of gifts can help them stay busy and keep their minds off their pain and their situation. This is an important part of maintaining a good attitude while in hospice care. When a caretaker does visit, they can plan to sit with them and enjoy these activities together.
Do What They Like
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to how they cope with hardship and how they like to spend time with people. Some patients would like to sit quietly together and watch a movie, others might like to go for a walk indoors, and others might want to talk the whole time you are visiting. Make sure to find out what their preferences are and how it feels best to spend time together. Caretakers want to make sure they look forward to the visits, because it fills them up and helps bring in some light during the cold winter months.
Make Sure They Have Cozy Clothes
Just because they are in hospice care doesn’t mean your loved one won’t also enjoy cozy winter clothes to keep them warm during the dark, cold months. Pick out some of their favorite sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens, slippers and other comfortable items and bring them into hospice so they can bundle up if they need to. Items from home can make hospice feel a lot warmer and more inviting for them.
Invite Them to Share Memories
Winter is a great time to sit together with a hot cup of tea and talk. And it’s important for end-of-life patients to be able to share the memories they have of their life so they know they are leaving a legacy behind. Ask them to share things and come up with some questions in advance about their favorite memories and moments that they have had in their lives. Caretakers can even turn it into a writing exercise if the loved one enjoys writing and would like to have their words preserved for their family after they are gone.
Care for Yourself
Caring for a loved one with a serious illness is hard work and can be exhausting. To make sure the caretaker can be the best person they can be, they have to remember to practice self-care as well as taking care of their loved one. Make sure that the person giving care takes time for themselves to do the things they enjoy. Get lots of rest, and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help. Joining an organization such as a church or community group can provide a source of support as well. Take breaks and get regular checkups to make sure to maintain good health.
Caring for someone in hospice isn’t easy, especially during the cold, dark months of winter. A loved one will probably need more time and care during this season, and they will be so thankful to their caretakers for providing the extra attention to help them through it.