Author’s new book looks at dying at home

‘It’s my passion to demystify hospice’ — Karen J. Clayton

With more Americans living longer and aging in place, more also want to die at home.

Few, however, actually do.

Karen Clayton of Oak Harbor believes more terminally-ill individuals and their caregivers might choose home end-of-life care if they knew more about the physical and emotional support provided by hospice services.

“It’s my passion to demystify hospice so patients and families will use this truly extraordinary care,” she said. “I believe most people think hospice is a really good thing—for someone else. They do not realize they can have six months of quality end-of-life care wherever they live.”

Clayton’s just-released book, Demystifying Hospice: Inside the Stories of Patients and Caregivers, is based on years of experience working as a social worker in public and private hospitals, a hospice, and with the American Cancer Society. She plans to discuss her book and the topic of hospice care at a series of presentations and workshops around Whidbey Island this fall.

Clayton describes herself as a hospice social worker, sociologist, author and a story catcher.

Studies have shown that approximately 80% of Americans would prefer to die at home, if possible. Despite this, 60% of Americans die in acute care hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and only 20% at home.

According to the National Hospice Foundation, many people at the end-of-life are being referred to hospice care too late or not at all.

Many Americans don’t realize hospice care is a benefit of Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits, and many other insurance plans, Clayton said. Additionally, hospice organizations can help those with no insurance.

“Hospice offers at least six months of care for terminally ill patients and their caregivers,” she added. “So, it’s stunning that, in 2015, half of the U. S. hospice patients had this truly extraordinary care for 17.4 days or less and one-third for seven days or less.”

Home hospice services consist of a team of professionals who regularly visit patients at home and are available 24 hours a day. Nurses, social workers, chaplains and nurse aides comprise the main team and some services also provide massage therapists, even instrumentalists, such as harpists, to play soothing music.

Hospice services also supplies medication and delivers equipment, such as hospital beds, wheelchairs and personal hygiene items.

Clayton’s book doesn’t focus on medical problems but rather the emotional and practical help given by socials workers to patients, caregivers and families.

“The caregiver receives training and support from the team, and it is difficult,” Clayton said. “It helps to have someone to talk with about the types of feelings involved; fear, grief, anger, curiosity about how to help in the best way.”

She also provides caregiving tips and suggests ways to connect with people in their final days.

“It’s good when families spend time with photo albums, old family films, games, movies, playing checkers or chess, remembering the good times in their lives, the things they have contributed through their job or service,” Clayton said. “Quality of life can be maintained when patients are offered activities, food, family interactions within the limits they have.”

Clayton’s book describes the hope, healing and support that home hospice care offers.

Each story addresses some aspect of helping families through the caregiving and grieving process and it offers comfort and understanding to readers who may be going through similar experiences.

“These stories will lift your spirits and touch your heart,” Clayton said. “It’s a joyful thing to learn how to provide good physical and emotional care for the person you love.”

Karen Clayton will discuss hospice care and her book at the following free events open to the public:

Three Journeys: Writing, Caregiving, Publishing; 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 18, Friends of the Library, Oak Harbor Library

“Demystifying Hospice” workshop: 1:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22, Coupeville Library

“Demystifying Hospice” workshop: 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, , Freeland Library

“Demystifying Hospice” workshop: 10 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, Langley Library ^

• More information at www.rowman.com/ISBN/9781538114957/Demystifying-Hospice-Inside-the-Stories-of-Patients-and-Caregivers

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