Social work and end-of-life care

Social work is important in end-of-life care

How long does end of life care last? A common and unanswerable question

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAn interesting question in Yahoo answers, where people ask general questions and others reply from experience. Lots of people ask when someone who is known to be at the end of life is going to die, but it’s really difficult to know.

Link to the page.

How long does end of life care last?

My grandma suffers from severe dementia and started end of life care about two or three days ago. She lives 4 hours away, and so I know I’ve seen her for the last time having said my goodbyes. She is not been given much in the way of food and drink as she now can barely swallow. She is also receiving morphine for cancer on her spine. I don’t want her to suffer anymore, how long will her end of life care last?

Here’s one of the answers:

I am a certified End-of-Life Care Practitioner. I gather from the morphine that your grandmother is in the care of hospice. This is very good as the hospice team will not only support your grandmother, but also her caregivers. [This comment uses American terminology, where ‘hospice’ is what in other countries would be called a home care end-of-life care service; it does not refer to care in a building specialising in end-of-life care.]

Her care will last until she dies. When a person stops eating and drinking, which is part of the natural transition to death, two weeks is generally the maximum length of life. Variables, like her cancer and her weariness of living can shorten that. Some people have unfinished business to complete or wait for permission from a loved one to finally let go of life, which can extend the dying process. [This reflects the difference between professional knowledge and many people’s assumptions: there is no easy way to tell how quickly someone is going to die unless you know them well and are actually there to see the path of their dying.]

If I may offer suggestions, make a sacred place in your home for your grandmother so you can keep vigil with her. Set out a photo(s), candle(s), flowers, and objects that symbolize her in a place you can view often. Talk to her as though you were at her bedside. Send her your love and your intention that she has a peaceful transition.Hearing is the last sense to cease. You can have someone hold a phone to her ear and you can tell her yourself, too. [This is really good advice for people who are at a distance from someone they know is dying.]

Saying I love you, thank you, I’m sorry, I forgive you–whether in person, on the phone, in writing, or in our thoughts, is meaningful before we must say goodbye. [This list of interpersonal tasks that friends and family members often want to complete comes from Byock’s work, which the answerer cites, although the original source is Dame Cicely Saunders.]

You will share your grandmother’s peace through your life.


Ira Byock, “The Four Things”


Written by Malcolm Payne

2 January 2013 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. In the winter 2013 issue of The New Social Worker (Volume 20, Number 1, p. 31), available online at:
    Linda May Grobman, MSW, ACSW, LSW, has published a short useful article on several internet resources: “Sites Ease Stress of End-of-Life Planning”

    Anthony Bibus

    8 January 2013 at 9:02 pm

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