How to Emotionally Support a Homecare or Hospice Patient with Severe Anxiety

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How To Avoid Social Isolation in Hospice

By Dr. Beau A. Nelson

Patients in homecare or hospice have a lot to deal with. End-of-life issues, physical pain, emotional fears, isolation, and other challenges affect people. 

For many patients, not being active and having to depend on others for even basic needs can be strange and foreign. Lack of control, persistent physical and emotional symptoms, and dealing with change are all issues that people can face. 

Some patients may be less equipped to cope with these things than others. That makes it important to know helpful ways to soothe and comfort and if necessary, treat the emotional anxiety, panic, or stress a patient is experiencing.

5 Tools for Helping a Patient Cope with Anxiety

A caregiver, family member, or other concerned person can offer the following behavioral and psychological supports to help a patient cope with their anxiety:

  • Speak calmly, be present, and offer support and reassurance.
  • Physical touch can be comforting. Holding a hand, a light touch on the arm, or a hug can sometimes be the best medicine for fears and anxieties.
  • Spend time and listen. The presence of a caring person and some time to talk can help a patient feel less alone, scared, or prone to ruminate on negative things.
  • Encourage some deep breathing, slowly inhaling and exhaling and counting the breaths. Breathing in though the nose and out through the mouth in a measured way reduces panic and anxiety. Helping the patient focus on something else should help to calm their symptoms.
  • Counseling can be very beneficial for homebound and hospice patients if they are able to communicate and think clearly. Going over life issues in the present, reflecting on the past, and talking about regrets, hopes, and fears, can help a patient deal with issues that may be contributing to the symptoms that they are now experiencing. Even if counseling is not available, just time with a trusted friend or caregiver who will listen and care is beneficial.

Medication for Patient Anxiety 

Because there may be many physical, cognitive, or emotional issues going on with any patient, there is often a need to add a medication to assist with symptom management.  Anyone in homecare and hospice will be evaluated by a nurse and under the care of a physician to deliver their care. If the anxiety persists, interferes with the goals of homecare or hospice, or there is an organic issue that needs to be addressed, medications can be very useful and supportive. A medical provider should evaluate and can prescribe an anxiolytic medication that can relieve symptoms and be given as needed or regularly to help the patient.

Caregivers, staff, families, and others can help to support and offer options to patients who are having anxiety. It is also important to note that good self-care is important for the caregiver, so they can be present and emotionally available to the patient. In this way, they will be offering a great deal of caring that can help to make homecare or hospice more person-centered.

Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, is Chief Clinical Officer at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.