Archive for October 2017

What is a Death Rattle?

Posted on Nov 28, 2017

When it comes to end-of-life care, there are many symptoms that are misunderstood. One symptom that is well known, but not well understood, is terminal respiratory secretions. Commonly referred to as a death rattle, this symptom involves noisy breathing and tends to raise several questions from family members.

The cause of terminal respiratory secretions, or death rattle, is a build up of mucus and saliva in the patient’s throat. In many cases, terminally ill patients will eventually lose the ability to swallow and clear their throat. As they begin to lose consciousness, this build up will stay lodged in their throat, moving in time with the patient’s breathing. This movement causes a crackling and rattling sound.

How to Care for a Patient with a Death Rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions aren’t always an indication of respiratory distress, but the sound can often raise concerns from the family of the patient. There are a few medications, such as Hyoscyamine (Levsin) and Atropine, that can be administered to decrease the patient’s saliva production. Another way to treat terminal respiratory secretions is to reposition the patient on their side and raise their head to help the patient be more comfortable.

Although death rattles aren’t a pleasant sound for families to hear, it is a natural part of end-of-life care. When a patient begins to experience this symptom, it’s normally an indication the patient is nearing the end. This can be a cue for family members to come say their final goodbyes, and for our bereavement consolers to come meet with the family to help guide them through this time.

If you’re in need of hospice care in Tulsa or the surrounding areas, call Cura Hospice and Palliative Care. Our team of hospice professionals is here to help your loved one deal with symptoms like terminal respiratory secretions and other common end-of-life symptoms. 

Dealing with Depression During End-of-Life Care

Posted on Oct 12, 2017

Most people are vastly under-educated about the effects and scope of depression. Every year, more than 350 million people are thought to be affected by depression. The causes of depression are just as wide-ranging as the types of people it affects. No one, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic level, or genetic history, is invulnerable when it comes to depression. One demographic that is particularly susceptible to depression is the terminally ill.

Dealing with grief is a ubiquitous experience during the final stages of life. However, this grief can easily turn into clinical depression if left unchecked. Thankfully, depression is a treatable condition, even in terminally ill patients.

The first step to treating depression in terminally ill patients is recognizing the symptoms. These symptoms are very similar to symptoms found in non-terminally ill patients. If you think your loved one is experiencing or may be on the verge of experiencing depression, look for changes in their mood, sleeping, appetite, weight, behavior, and cognition.

It’s important to remember that these changes can be caused by a myriad of other factors, so be sure to check with the attending physician before sounding the alarms.

Once depression has been identified as the root cause of these changes, there are several treatment options available. Medication and counseling are the two primary treatment options for depression. The hospice chaplain and bereavement consoler will be a fantastic resource for any hospice patients experiencing depression.

These counseling services are also available to the family of the patient, because depression doesn’t just affect the patient. Seeing your loved one go through the last stages of life and coping with their impending death can take a real toll on family members. This is why family members also need to vigilant to be spot depression.  

Being Thankful After a Loss

Posted on Nov 14, 2017

As the busy holiday season approaches, those who have recently experienced a loss are likely dreading the traditions they formally enjoyed with their deceased loved one. This holiday season will not be like years past, and that’s okay. The roles that your loved one use to play will have to be filled by someone else or left unfilled. This can be a harsh reality to face, but you need to remember that it’s okay to feel sad during this time.

Gathering as a family for the first time without your loved one can bring on strong feelings of grief and even depression. These feelings are all legitimate and need to be acknowledged. If you think this holiday season might be a tough one, be sure to not take on too much responsibility. Talk with other family members and divide the workload according to everyone’s emotional capacity. If no one is feeling up to cooking the turkey or making some dish that’s normally a family favorite, don’t feel obligated to volunteer. It’s okay to make a few adjustments here and there to accommodate everyone’s needs.

During this gathering, it might be tempting to ignore the loss and focus on more positive aspects of the day. However, acknowledging the loss, even if it’s very briefly, can help everyone process what happened and even give the family a sense of unity and mutual support.

One great way to do this is to create a new tradition that honors your lost loved one. Bringing fresh flowers to the grave site, playing an honorary baseball game, giving a special toast before eating, or even just lighting a candle are all great ways to honor and remember your loved one for many years to come.

This first year won’t be easy, but know that each coming year will get easier and easier. Remember and be thankful for the times you had with your loved one and do your best to create more memories with the loved ones around you this year. 

Look for Symptoms Instead of Stages

Posted on Oct 07, 2017

When people think about dealing with the loss of a loved one, most people will consider the five stages of grief at some point. This system was created by a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. In her ground-breaking book, On Death and Dying, the world was first introduced to the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For almost 50 years, this has been the gold standard for dealing with grief. However, some grief experts are starting to move away from this model.

While the five stages have been incredibly helpful for people experiencing loss, the method has become so widespread that people have started to misuse it. The word “stages” suggests that grief is a linear process with a predictable path. There are certainly common emotions and conditions shared by those dealing with a loss, but that doesn’t mean grief will always take the same path.

Instead of trying to figure out what stage you’re in, just be aware of the symptoms of grief and treat them as they come. Grief will affect every aspect of your life, and it’s normal to experience physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms. Knowing what these symptoms look like will help you treat them and ultimately get past them.

Physical Symptoms of Grief

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Weight changes
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Decreased immune system

Emotional Symptoms of Grief

  • Low self-esteem
  • Indecisiveness
  • Negative thoughts
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thinking you are responsible for the loss
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia
  • Feeling isolated

Spiritual Symptoms of Grief

  • Questioning your beliefs
  • Being angry at God
  • Questioning your purpose
  • Feeling abandoned

These symptoms could very well follow the traditional five stages, but treating symptoms as they come will likely be more helpful than trying to pinpoint which stage you’re at. Use the five stages as a guide, but don’t feel tied to them. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to get help if you need it. Grief counseling or support groups can be incredibly helpful.