Patients being placed in hospice care aren’t the only ones eligible to receive services. Family members can also benefit from the wide range of medical, spiritual and emotional resources being offered by a palliative care facility. A new study took a look at the spouses of seriously ill patients and found that hospice care can positively impact their mental health even after the passing of their loved one.
Published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, the report examined depressive symptoms in surviving spouses of patients with a variety of serious illnesses. Researchers learned that spouses of patients receiving hospice services for three or more days were less likely to become as depressed as spouses of patients who did not receive hospice care.
“We are seeing some benefits for surviving spouses in terms of a decrease in depressive symptoms after death relative to spouses of those who did not use hospice,” said Katherine Ornstein, PhD, professor of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “These differences are even more substantial one year after death.”
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Bereavement-related depression in surviving spouses is nothing out of the ordinary. “This is obviously a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one and coping with widowhood,” she said.
The study analyzed data from 1,016 deceased patients and their surviving spouses. Researchers then monitored surviving spouses through bereavement up to two years after death. The National Institute on Aging, the National Palliative Care Research Center, the American Federation for Aging Research and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs supported the report, which used figures from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a national survey that samples Americans over the age of 50 every couple of years.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) estimated that 1.5 to 1.61 million patients received services from hospice in 2013. “There has been a substantial increase in hospice use in the past decade so that almost half of
She added: “In part this growth has occurred because of increased education to physicians and patients about the availability and benefits of hospice care and what it is and is not.”
The study didn’t pinpoint hospice services associated with improved symptoms, mainly due to the variety of components of hospice services. “For example, hospice is focused on symptom management and comfort care, which may relieve patient suffering and reduce depression for families. Hospice also includes services specially designed for caregivers, including bereavement counseling,” Orstein said.
“Advance care planning occurs in hospice setting which may also