End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

assisted-living facilities

Elder Abuse – A National Tragedy

By Ashley Carson Cottingham
National Field Director

On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we take time to acknowledge that an estimated 2.1 million older Americans fall victim to elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation each year. At Compassion & Choices we work diligently to protect older adults by upholding their rights at the end of life, sometimes when they are no longer able to speak for themselves. And this year we became proud members of the Elder Justice Coalition in Washington, D.C.

Elder abuse occurs on a regular basis, affecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. What’s even worse is that for every reported case of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, experts believe there are five that go unreported. We must put an end to it.

Our work has exposed a form of elder abuse that is rarely discussed. It occurs when an older adult’s expressed wishes at the end of life are ignored, and as a result they are subjected to unwanted and invasive medical treatment. We believe this unwanted treatment absolutely constitutes elder abuse. More

Forced to Choose: Exploring Other Options

by Paula Span
The New York Times
December 3, 2012

I wrote last week about the poor choices facing patients, most very old and within six months of death, who need nursing home care after a hospitalization.

Medicare will pay for hospice, the acknowledged gold standard for those at the end of life and their families, and it will also pay for skilled nursing (known in this universe as the “sniff” benefit, for Skilled Nursing Facility or S.N.F.). But only rarely will it cover both at the same time, which creates a financial bind.

Rather than pay hundreds of dollars a day out of pocket for room and board in a nursing home, most families opt for S.N.F. coverage. But they pay a price in other ways: they lose the visits by nurses and aides and social workers, the comfort care, the pain relief and the spiritual support that can make hospice such a godsend, whether patients are at home or in nursing homes. More

The Cost of Dying: Simple Act of Feeding Poses Painful Choices

by Lisa M. Krieger
The Oakland Tribune
November 2, 2012

A small plastic tube is all that stands between survival and starvation.

The benefits of a feeding tube — helping elders who have forgotten how to eat — seem so obvious that it is used on one-third of demented nursing home residents, contributing to a growing device market worth $1.64 billion annually.

Except it does little to help. And it can hurt.

Decades after the tube achieved widespread use for people with irreversible dementia, some families are beginning to say no to them, as emerging research shows that artificial feeding prolongs, complicates and isolates dying.

The tale of the feeding tube, known as percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), is the latest installment of “Cost of Dying,” a series exploring how our technological ability to stave off death creates dilemmas unimaginable decades ago, when we died younger and more quickly.

Food is how we comfort those we love; when all other forms of communication have vanished, feeding remains a final act of devotion. So the easy availability of feeding tubes forces a wrenching choice upon families: Do we say yes, condemning a loved one to dependency on a small plastic tube in their stomach? Or do we say no, consenting to their death?

Tubes are useful as a nutritional tool for patients struggling with a critical illness, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or recovering from stroke, cancer or anorexia.

But if no turnaround is in sight — particularly in elders with progressive neurological illness — they can be a dreadful mistake, medical researchers now say. More

A Revolving Door to Avoid

by Judith Graham
The New York Times
October 25, 2012

Two weeks ago, Dr. Arif Nazir got a call from a colleague about a 79-year-old woman at an Indianapolis hospital. The cardiologist on the phone explained there was nothing more that could be done for this patient, who had advanced heart failure, chronic lung disease and diabetes.

After a brief conversation, Dr. Nazir agreed to admit her to a nursing home and try to keep her out of the hospital, respecting her recently signed “do not resuscitate” order, or D.N.R.

It was a promise that was broken within several hours, much to Dr. Nazir’s dismay. The reasons highlight troublesome problems with long-term care that frequently frustrate caregivers and that are receiving fresh attention from medical providers and Medicare. More

Do Seniors Turn to the Right Places at End of Life?

by Andrew Seaman
Chicago Tribune
October 1, 2012

A new study says almost one third of Medicare’s beneficiaries use the program to pay for end-of-life care at nursing homes, which may not be equipped to treat or prevent pain and suffering.

Those palliative care services are usually associated with hospice care, while nursing homes are typically for rehabilitation and long-term care.

The study’s researchers, who published their findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine on Monday, say the findings suggest that palliative or hospice care should be incorporated into Medicare’s nursing home benefits.

“Often our focus on these patients is trying to keep them functional or independent for as long as we can. What we may be overlooking is that they are on an end-of-life trajectory,” said Dr. Katherine Aragon, the study’s lead author from Lawrence General Hospital in Massachusetts. More