As the holidays approach, hospice and palliative care professionals and volunteers can reflect on another dedicated year of providing specialized services for patients and personalized support for families and caregivers across Niagara County.

Each year, nearly 1.5 million people in the U.S. received hospice care, and almost 50 percent of Medicare enrollees were in a hospice program at the time of their death. Since former President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation in 1979 recognizing the value of hospice, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month as been commemorated in November. Forty years later, this distinction continues to highlight the growth of hospice and the benefits it provides to patients.

This recognition also shines a light on the 500,000 professionals and volunteers nationwide who contribute their expertise in medical, emotional, spiritual and social services to patients and families. They are committed to delivering care and dignity at the most challenging times while ensuring families have all the information to navigate the various situations that arise with late-stage illnesses.

Any type of terminal illness can qualify an individual for hospice, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia conditions that are becoming more prevalent, as evidenced by 30 percent of last year’s patients with Niagara Hospice having some form of dementia.

At hospice, patients are not defined by their diagnosis; he or she is treated as a unique person who seeks symptom management and comfort. Hospice takes a comprehensive approach in treating the patient and family as one unit and customizing the plan for each person’s needs and challenges. Any type of terminal illness can qualify an individual for hospice, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia conditions that are becoming more prevalent.

In Niagara County, Liberty Home Care’s Pathways palliative care program is another vital component of the continuum of symptom management services available to Niagara County residents with a serious, chronic illness. Palliative care help patients maintain their quality of life and enables the transition to hospice when the time is right. This program provides nursing, social work case management and spiritual care services to individuals and families to relieve distressing symptoms while working in tandem with the individual’s physicians.

Niagara Hospice and Pathways combine to serve more than 1,000 patients across Niagara County each year. The care takes place wherever an individual is most comfortable, including family homes, hospitals, long-term facilities and the Niagara Hospice House in Lockport. Think about how many people are related to or very close acquaintances of each patient, and you could multiply that figure by 10-20 times. Now you see the larger impact that hospice and palliative care have when the awareness of the amount of support each family receives expands to the community level where several thousand people are touched each year.

When people look back on their hospice experience for a loved one, the sentiment that is often expressed is they wish they had called sooner. Hospice professionals are always available and willing to have early discussions to assess a prognosis and evaluate options and eligibility.

Niagara County residents can take pride in knowing that the hospice and palliative care professionals and volunteers are making a difference every day through their unified goals of enhancing quality of life and reducing the burden for loved ones dealing with terminal illnesses.

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Dr. Richard Castaldo is the medical director at Niagara Hospice.

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