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Nursing care involves the support of general well-being of our patients, the provision of episodic acute care and rehabilitation, and when a return to health is not possible, a peaceful death. Dying is a profound transition for the individual. As healthcare providers, we become skilled in nursing and medical science, but the care of the dying person encompasses much more. Certain aspects of this care are taking on more importance for patients, families, and healthcare providers.

Hospice care provides comprehensive physical, psychological, social, and spiritual care for terminally ill patients. Most hospice programs serve terminally ill patients from the comforts and relaxed surroundings of their own home, although there are some located in inpatient settings. The goal of hospice care team is to help the patient achieve as full life as possible, with minimal pain, discomfort, and restriction. It also emphasizes a coordinated team effort to help the patient and family members overcome the severe anxiety, fear, and depression that occur with terminal illness. To that end, hospice staffs encourage family members to help and participate in patient care, thereby providing the  patient with warmth and security and helping the family caregivers begin the grieving process even before the patient dies.

Everyone involved in this method of care must be committed to high-quality patient care, unafraid of emotional involvement, and comfortable with personal feelings about death and dying. Good hospice care also requires open communication among team members, not just for evaluating patient care but also for helping the staff cope with their own feelings.

Recent studies have identified barriers to end-of-life care including patient or family member’s avoidance of death, influence of managed care on end-of-life care, and lack of continuity of care across settings. In addition, if the dying patient requires a lengthy period of care or complicated physical care, there is the likelihood of caregiver fatigue (psychological and physical) that can compromise the care provided.

The best opportunity for quality care occurs when patients facing death, and their family, have time to consider the meaning of their lives, make plans, and shape the course of their living while preparing for death.

Nursing Care Plans

Nursing Priorities

  1. Control pain.
  2. Prevent/manage complications.
  3. Maintain quality of life as possible.
  4. Plans in place to meet patient’s/family’s last wishes (e.g., care setting, Advance Directives, will, funeral).

1. Ineffective Family Coping

Nursing Diagnosis

  • Ineffective Family Coping
  • Risk for Compromised or Disabled Caregiver Role Strain

May be related to

  • Inadequate or incorrect information or understanding by a primary person; unrealistic expectations
  • Temporary preoccupation by significant person who is trying to manage emotional conflicts and personal suffering and is unable to perceive or to act effectively with regard to patient’s needs; does not have enough resources to provide the care needed
  • Temporary family disorganization and role changes; feel that caregiving interferes with other important roles in their lives
  • Patient providing little support in turn for the primary person
  • Prolonged disease/disability progression that exhausts the supportive capacity of significant persons
  • Significant person with chronically unexpressed feelings of guilt, anxiety, hostility, despair
  • Highly ambivalent family relationships; feel stress or nervousness in their relationship with the care receiver

Possibly evidenced by

  • Patient expressing/confirming a concern or complaint about SO’s response to patient’s health problem, despair about family reactions/lack of involvement; history of poor relationship between caregiver and care receiver
  • Neglectful relationships with other family members
  • Inability to complete caregiving tasks; altered caregiver health status
  • SO describing preoccupation about personal reactions; displaying intolerance, abandonment, rejection; caregiver not developmentally ready for caregiver role
  • SO attempting assistive/supportive behaviors with less than satisfactory results; withdrawing or entering into limited or temporary personal communication with patient; displaying protective behavior disproportionate (too little or too much) to patient’s abilities or need for autonomy
  • Apprehension about future regarding care receiver’s health and the caregiver’s ability to provide care

Desired Outcomes

  • Identify resources within themselves to deal with situation.
  • Visit regularly and participate positively in care of patient, within limits of abilities.
  • Express more realistic understanding and expectations of patient.
  • Provide opportunity for patient to deal with situation in own way.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
Assess level of anxiety present in family and/or SO. Anxiety level needs to be dealt with before problem solving can begin. Individuals may be so preoccupied with own reactions to situation that they are unable to respond to another’s needs.
Establish rapport and acknowledge difficulty of the situation for the family. May assist SO to accept what is happening and be willing to share problems with staff.
Determine the level of impairment of perceptual, cognitive, and/or physical abilities. Evaluate illness and current behaviors that are interfering with the care of the patient. Information about family problems will be helpful in determining options and developing an appropriate plan of care.
Note patient’s emotional and behavioral responses resulting from increasing weakness and dependency Approaching death is most stressful when patient and/or family coping responses are strained, resulting in increased frustration, guilt, and anguish.
Discuss underlying reasons for patient behaviors with family. When family members know why patient is behaving differently, it may help them understand and accept or deal with unusual behaviors.
Assist family and patient to understand “who owns the problem” and who is responsible for resolution. Avoid placing blame or guilt. When these boundaries are defined, each individual can begin to take care of own self and stop taking care of others in inappropriate ways.
Determine current knowledge and/or perception of the situation. Provides information on which to begin planning care and make informed decisions.
Assess current actions of SO and how they are received by patient. Lack of information or unrealistic perceptions can interfere with caregiver’s and/or care receiver’s response to illness situation.
Involve SO in information giving, problem solving, and care of patient as feasible. Instruct in medication administration techniques, needed treatments, and ascertain adeptness with required equipment. SO may be trying to be helpful, but actions are not perceived as being helpful by patient. SO may be withdrawn or can be too protective.
Include all family members as appropriate in discussions. Provide and/or reinforce information about terminal illness and/or death and future family needs. Information can reduce feelings of helplessness and uselessness. Helping a patient or family find comfort is often more important than adhering to strict routines. However, family caregivers need to feel confident with specific care activities and equipment.

2. Activity Intolerance

Nursing Diagnoses

  • Activity Intolerance
  • Fatigue

May be related to

  • Generalized weakness
  • Bedrest or immobility; progressive disease state/debilitating condition
  • Imbalance between oxygen supply and demand
  • Cognitive deficits/emotional status, secondary to underlying disease process/depression
  • Pain, extreme stress

Possibly evidenced by

  • Report of lack of energy, inability to maintain usual routines
  • Verbalizes no desire and/or lack of interest in activity
  • Lethargic; drowsy; decreased performance
  • Disinterested in surroundings/introspection

Desired Outcomes

  • Identify negative factors affecting performance and eliminate/reduce their effects when possible.
  • Adapt lifestyle to energy level.
  • Verbalize understanding of potential loss of ability in relation to existing condition.
  • Maintain or achieve slight increase in activity tolerance evidenced by acceptable level of fatigue/weakness.
  • Remain free of preventable discomfort and/or complications.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
Assess sleep patterns and note changes in thought processes behaviors. Multiple factors can aggravate fatigue, including sleep deprivation, emotional distress, side effects of medication, and progression of disease process.
Recommend scheduling activities for periods when patient has most energy. Adjust activities as necessary, reducing intensity level and/or discontinuing activities as indicated. Prevents overexertion, allows for some activity within patient ability.
Encourage patient to do whatever possible: self-care, sit in chair, visit with family or friends. Provides for sense of control and feeling of accomplishment.
Instruct patient, family, and/or caregiver in energy conservation techniques. Stress necessity of allowing for frequent rest periods following activities. Enhances performance while conserving limited energy, preventing increase in level of fatigue.
Demonstrate proper performance of ADLs, ambulation or position changes. Identify safety issues: use of assistive devices, temperature of bath water, keeping travel-ways clear of furniture. Protects patient or caregiver from injury during activities.
Encourage nutritional intake and use of supplements as appropriate. Necessary to meet energy needs for activity.
Document cardiopulmonary response to activity (weakness, fatigue, dyspnea, arrhythmias, and diaphoresis). Can provide guidelines for participation in activities.
Monitor breath sounds. Note feelings of panic or air hunger. Hypoxemia increases sense of fatigue, impairs ability to function.
Provide supplemental oxygen as indicated and monitor response. Increases oxygenation. Evaluates effectiveness of therapy.

3. Anticipatory Grieving

Nursing Diagnoses

  • Anticipatory Grieving
  • Death Anxiety

May be related to

  • Anticipated loss of physiological well-being (e.g., change in body function)
  • Perceived death of patient

Possibly evidenced by

  • Changes in eating habits; alterations in sleep patterns, activity levels, libido, and communication patterns
  • Denial of potential loss, choked feelings, anger
  • Fear of the process of dying; loss of physical and/or mental abilities
  • Negative death images or unpleasant thought about any event related to death or dying; anticipated pain related to dying
  • Powerlessness over issues related to dying; total loss of control over any aspect of one’s own death; inability to problem-solve
  • Worrying about impact of one’s own death on SOs; being the cause of other’s grief and suffering; concerns of overworking the caregiver as terminal illness incapacitates

Desired Outcomes

  • Identify and express feelings appropriately.
  • Continue normal life activities, looking toward/planning for the future, one day at a time.
  • Verbalize understanding of the dying process and feelings of being supported in grief work.
  • Experience personal empowerment in spiritual strength and resources to find meaning and purpose in grief and loss.

Desired Family Outcome:

  • Verbalize understanding of the stages of grief and loss, ventilate conflicts and feelings related to illness and death.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
Facilitate development of a trusting relationship with patient and/or family. Trust is necessary before patient and/or family can feel free to open personal lines of communication with the hospice team and address sensitive issues.
Assess patient and/or SO for stage of grief currently being experienced. Explain process as appropriate. Knowledge about the grieving process reinforces the normality of feelings and/or reactions being experienced and can help patient deal more effectively with them.
Provide open, nonjudgmental environment. Use therapeutic communication skills of active listening, affirmation, and so on. Promotes and encourages realistic dialogue about feelings and concerns.
Encourage verbalization of thoughts and/or concerns and accept expressions of sadness, anger, rejection. Acknowledge normality of these feelings. Patient may feel supported in expression of feelings by the understanding that deep and often conflicting emotions are normal and experienced by others in this difficult situation.
Be aware of mood swings, hostility, and other acting-out behavior. Set limits on inappropriate behavior, redirect negative thinking. Indicators of ineffective coping and need for additional interventions. Preventing destructive actions enables patient to maintain control and sense of self-esteem.
Monitor for signs of debilitating depression, statements of hopelessness, desire to “end it now.” Ask patient direct questions about state of mind. Patient may be especially vulnerable when recently diagnosed with end-stage disease process and/or when discharged from hospital. Fear of loss of control and/or concerns about managing pain effectively may cause patient to consider suicide.
Reinforce teaching regarding disease process and treatments and provide information as requested or
appropriate about dying. Be honest; do not give false hope while providing emotional support.
Patient and/or SO benefit from factual information. Individuals may ask direct questions about death, and honest answers promote trust and provide reassurance that correct information will be given.
Review past life experiences, role changes, sexuality concerns, and coping skills. Promote an environment conducive to talking about things that interest patient. Opportunity to identify skills that may help individuals cope with grief of current situation more effectively. Issues of sexuality remain important at this stage: feelings of masculinity or femininity, giving up role within family, ability to maintain sexual activity (if desired).
Investigate evidence of conflict; expressions of anger; and statements of despair, guilt, hopelessness, inability to grieve. Interpersonal conflicts and/or angry behavior may be patient’s or SO’s way of expressing or dealing with feelings of despair and/or spiritual distress, necessitating further evaluation and support.
Determine way that patient and/or SO understand and respond to death. Determine cultural expectations, learned behaviors, experience with death (close family members and/or friends), beliefs about life after death, faith in Higher Power (God) These factors affect how each individual faces death and influences how they may respond and interact.
Assist patient/SO to identify strengths in self or situation and support systems. Recognizing these resources provides opportunity to work through feelings of grief.
Be aware of own feelings about death. Accept whatever methods patient/SO have chosen to help each other through the process. Caregiver’s anxiety and unwillingness to accept reality of possibility of own death may block ability to be helpful to patient/SO, necessitating enlisting the aid of others to provide needed support.
Provide open environment for discussion with patient/SO (when appropriate) about desires and/or plans pertaining to death; e.g., making will, burial arrangements, tissue donation, death benefits, insurance, time for family gatherings, how to spend remaining time. If patient/SO are mutually aware of impending death, they may more easily deal with unfinished business or desired activities. Having a part in problem solving or planning can provide a sense of control over anticipated events.
Encourage participation in care and treatment decisions. Allows patient to retain some control over life.
Visit frequently and provide physical contact as appropriate or desired, or provide frequent phone support as appropriate for setting. Arrange for care provider and/or support person to stay with patient as needed. Helps reduce feelings of isolation and abandonment.
Provide time for acceptance, final farewell, and arrangements for memorial or funeral service according to individual spiritual, cultural, ethnic needs. Accommodation of personal and family wishes helps reduce anxiety and may promote sense of peace.
Determine spiritual needs or conflicts and refer to appropriate team members including clergy and/or spiritual advisor. Providing for spiritual needs, forgiveness, prayer, devotional materials, or sacraments as requested can relieve spiritual pain and provide a sense of peace.
Refer to appropriate counselor as needed (psychiatric clinical nurse specialist, social worker, psychologist, pastoral support) Compassion and support can help alleviate distress or palliate feelings of grief to facilitate coping and foster growth.
Refer to visiting nurse, home health agency as needed, or hospice team, when appropriate. Provides support in meeting physical and emotional needs of patient and/or SO, and can supplement the care family and friends are able to give.
Identify need for and appropriate timing of antidepressants and/or anxiety medications. May alleviate distress, enhance coping, especially for patients not requiring analgesics.

4. Pain

Nursing Diagnosis

  • Pain, acute/chronic

May be related to

  • Injuring agents (biological, chemical, physical, psychological)
  • Chronic physical disability

Possibly evidenced by

  • Verbal/coded report; preoccupation with pain
  • Changes in appetite/eating, weight; sleep patterns; altered ability to continue desired activities; fatigue
  • Guarded/protective behavior; distraction behavior (pacing/repetitive activities, reduced interaction with others)
  • Facial mask; expressive behavior (restlessness, moaning, crying, irritability); self-focusing; narrowed focus (altered time perception, impaired thought process)
  • Alteration in muscle tone (varies from flaccid to rigid)
  • Autonomic responses (diaphoresis, changes in BP, respiration, pulse); sympathetic mediated responses (temperature, cold, changes of body position, hypersensitivity)

Desired Patient Outcomes

  • Report pain is relieved/controlled.
  • Verbalize methods that provide relief.
  • Follow prescribed pharmacological regimen.
  • Demonstrate use of relaxation skills and diversional activities as indicated.

Desired Family Outcomes

  • Cooperate in pain management program.
Nursing Interventions Rationale
Perform a comprehensive pain evaluation, including location, characteristics, onset, duration, frequency, quality, severity (e.g., 0–10 scale), and precipitating or aggravating factors. Note cultural issues impacting reporting and expression of pain. Determine patient’s acceptable level of pain. Provides baseline information from which a realistic plan can be developed, keeping in mind that verbal/behavioral cues may have little direct relationship to the degree of pain perceived. Often patient does not feel the need to be completely pain-free but is able to be more functional when pain is at lower level on the pain scale.
Determine possible pathophysiological and/or psychological causes of pain Pain is associated with many factors that may be interactive and increase the degree of pain experienced.
Assess patient’s perception of pain, along with behavioral and psychological responses. Determine patient’s attitude toward and/or use of pain medications and locus of control (internal and/or external). Helps identify patient’s needs and pain control methods found to be helpful or not helpful in the past. Individuals with external locus of control may take little or no responsibility for pain management.
Encourage patient and family to express feelings or concerns about narcotic use. Inaccurate information regarding drug use or fear of addiction or oversedation may impair pain control efforts.
Verify current and past analgesic and narcotic drug use (including alcohol). May provide insight into what has or has not worked in the past or may impact therapy plan.
Assess degree of personal adjustment to diagnosis, such as anger, irritability, withdrawal, acceptance. These factors are variable and often affect the perception of pain and ability to cope and need for pain management.
Discuss with SO(s) ways in which they can assist patient and reduce precipitating factors. Promotes involvement in care and belief that there are things they can do to help.
Identify specific signs and symptoms and changes in pain requiring notification of healthcare provider and medical intervention. Unrelieved pain may be associated with progression of terminal disease process, or be associated with complications that require medical management.
Involve caregivers in identifying effective comfort measures for patient: use of non-acidic fluids, oral swabs, lip salve, skin and/or perineal care, enema. Instruct in use of oxygen and/or suction equipment as appropriate. Managing troubling symptoms such as nausea, dry mouth, dyspnea, constipation can reduce patient’s suffering and family anxiety, improving quality of life and allowing patient/family to focus on other issues.
Demonstrate and encourage use of relaxation techniques, guided imagery, meditation. May reduce need for/can supplement analgesic therapy, especially during periods when patient desires to minimize sedative effects of medication.
Monitor for/discuss possibility of changes in mental status, agitation, confusion, restlessness. Although causes of deterioration are numerous in terminal stages, early recognition and management of the psychological component is an integral part of pain management.
Establish pain management plan with patient, family, and healthcare provider, including options for management of breakthrough pain. Inadequate pain management remains one of the most significant deficiencies in the care of the dying patient. A plan developed in advance increases patient’s level of trust that comfort will be maintained, reducing anxiety.
Schedule and administer analgesics as indicated to maximal dosage. Notify physician if regimen is inadequate to meet pain control goal. Helps maintain “acceptable” level of pain. Modifications of drug dosage or combinations may be required.
Instruct patient, family or caregiver in use of IV pump (PCA) for pain control. When patient controls dosage and administration of medication, pain relief is enhanced and quality of life improved.

Other Possible Nursing Care Plans

  • Risk for moral Distress—risk factors may include conflict among decision makers, cultural conflicts, end-of-life decisions, loss of autonomy, physical distance of decision makers.

See Also

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