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Hospice social workers: serving patients with dementia and families

Posted by Rachel Risler, Social Worker

Hospice social workers: serving patients with dementia and families

For National Professional Social Work Month, JourneyCare Social Worker Rachel Risler explains how hospice social workers provide compassionate care and support to patients with dementia and their loved ones. 

I've been working as a social worker with the elderly population since 2004, the last five years at JourneyCare. I became a social worker specifically to work with patients and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Since making the move from long-term care to hospice care, I have been honored to share the journey of end-stage dementia with patients and families. 

A common feeling of families is that they “just wish it would be over” after years of watching their loved one succumb to dementia. Families often describe feelings of guilt and ambiguity — not wanting to lose their loved one but also wanting their perceived suffering to end. As hospice social workers, we provide space for families to share these concerns, as well as ongoing education about the disease process. 

Grief related to dementia is often different from the grief associated with other illnesses, and is referred to as “the long goodbye.” A family begins experiencing the loss of the “person” long before the actual death. As a social worker, I can help them make the most of their time with their loved one, creating meaningful moments and memories for the family.

After the physical death, due to their complex feelings, caregivers may be at risk for complicated grief, a severe form of grief. Our social workers assess this risk and refer them to JourneyCare’s bereavement counselors if needed.

Hospice social workers not only support families, but are an important part of the team providing direct patient care. As we visit with patients in their family homes or long-term care facilities, social workers take the time to sit and connect with them, using photos, music and sensory items. 

A few of my favorite activities to share include taking a person outside on a warm day to enjoy nature, listening to their favorite music, and using family photos to encourage reminiscence.

Over my career, I have worked with hundreds of patients and their families. Each experience is special in its own way and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference, even if a small one, at a difficult time of their lives.

JourneyCare is available to anyone in our community who might have questions  ̶  24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact us online or at 224-770-2489.

Visit our website to learn more about care options for living with serious illness.

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