Care of the dying involves both care of the patient and of the family. The
family of a dying patient has special needs that include honest communication,
practical and psychosocial support, and bereavement counseling.
The physical and emotional demands on the family reach their peak as the patient
approaches the end of life. Physical and mental exhaustion, sleep disorders,
depression, anxiety, and chronic health problems can occur among family members.
Those who care for the patient at home may also forego social activities and
work duties, which results in social isolation and job instability.
Families need open and sensitive discussions with health care professionals
trained to respect individual styles of coping. Family members need to be forewarned
of the symptoms and anticipated progress of the disease and advised what to
do in case of an emergency.
No matter where the family chooses to care for the dying patient, health care
professionals can provide the family with clear, honest answers to questions
about medication, symptoms, comfort, and concerns about the imminence of death.
Family members need to care for their own needs. They may need someone to listen
to their fears. Support groups, grief counselors, and spiritual leaders can
help provide much needed relief. Sometimes family members of a dying patient
become depressed; they can be referred to professionals who provide counseling.
Children in the family providing care for a dying patient also have special
needs when coping with the illness or death of a loved one. They need added
comfort and support to cope with changes in routines affected by the care of
the dying patient. Their questions should be answered honestly and in an age-appropriate
Family members may need help with practical issues such as insurance, wills,
and funeral arrangements.
Bereavement (suffering the loss of a loved one) is a natural, anticipated process
after death. Palliative care provides support to family members preparing for
the death of their loved one and follow-up counseling as mourning evolves. For
more bereavement resources, please visit The Grieving Center.