Dr. Alexander Everest Shares Ways to Help Children Understand Palliative Care Before Visiting a Loved One
Many children have experienced the illness or death of a loved one. Children perceive these issues differently than adults, and it is important to make sure that they fully understand what is going on and what may happen to their loved ones in the case of a serious illness.
Palliative care presents a special situation where patients are being treated with methods that increase their quality of life rather than those that focus on extending their lifespan. It can be difficult to explain this to children who may believe that doctors can “fix everything.”
Dr. Alexander Everest, a healthcare executive with more than 20 years of experience, shares how parents can prepare their children for visiting relatives undergoing palliative care.
Explain That Their Loved One May Look Different
When people are suffering from a major illness, they often experience effects on their outward appearance. They will not be the same lively people before their illness, and children should be told that their loved ones will be different on the outside but the same person on the inside.
Address Their Fears
Many children are afraid of illness and death, just as adults can be. It is important to sit down with your child and go through any worries and fears they may have before and after visiting their ill loved ones.
When children witness illness, they are often scared that they will become sick or that their parents will become sick. You can reassure your children that your loved one’s illness is not contagious and that you have many years of life ahead of you.
Children may be afraid of needles, IV bags, and other intrusive medical equipment. It is best to prepare children for the presence of these objects and to reassure them that they are not hurting their loved ones.
Emphasize Connecting With Their Loved One
Though their loved one may look different on the surface and may tire easily, children should know that their loved one still feels the same way about them. If children do not want to sit and talk with their grandparents or other relatives, arranging a game or another family activity could be a fun way to engage everyone. This will also lift the ill loved one’s spirits.
Let Children Know that Their Loved One Tires Easily
Children should be prepared for the fact that someone undergoing palliative care typically has little energy for daily life activities. The visit will probably need to be short to avoid tiring them too much, and they will not have the power to play or talk in the way they once did.
Help Children Understand Their Illness
Older children and teens, in particular, should be taught about what the patient’s illness is and how it is affecting them. Children who are better-informed will have fewer worries and will be able to interact with their loved ones more naturally.
Older children should have age-appropriate information about the illness but should not be given intimate or disturbing details that they do not need. Each parent should decide for their children what level of information is appropriate.
Understanding the Rules of Visiting
Children should be told whether it needs to be quiet in the room where their loved one is staying. They should be taught not to touch sensitive equipment like monitors, IV stands, and pain medication delivery devices. If a child is too young to understand, parents should supervise them carefully and perhaps cut their visit short.
Explain Confusion and Agitation
Older loved ones may often exhibit confusion and agitation. This can frighten children and should be fully explained. Children should know that people who are undergoing palliative care or hospice care and are near the end of their lives may behave very differently than children are accustomed to.
Knowing When to Visit and Not to Visit
Only you, as a parent, can choose to allow your child to visit an ill loved one. In most cases, children are resilient and able to deal with the issues that may come up when they see their loved one’s illness in a person.
Parents with children with developmental disabilities may have more trouble deciding whether to allow them to visit loved ones who are seriously ill. However, patients generally benefit from these visits, so parents should be encouraged to make them if at all possible.
Listen to Children’s Concerns
After your children have visited their ill loved one undergoing palliative care, they will likely have many questions. Some children do not exhibit curiosity about these matters, but most want more information. Above all, children need to know how their loved one’s illness and possible death may impact them.
Parents should reassure their children that there will always be someone there to care for them. This is generally a child’s number one concern when they are worried about an ill loved one.
Dr. Alexander Everest wants parents to understand that they know their children best. They need to make individual decisions about which children should see an ill loved one undergoing palliative care and which children should be kept at home.