Baby Boomers Embracing New Cause: Choice at the End of Life


BY: Bill Finn, President and CEO

CATEGORY: News and Community

​Death and dying have long been taboo topics, but as baby boomers enter their senior years, societal views are changing. From honoring loved ones on Facebook to celebrating the lives of family members through creative, personalized memorial services, the 78 million Americans born 1946-1964 are already beginning to break down barriers and transform the way society views death. As the best-educated seniors this country has seen, they are also insisting on power and decision making throughout the entire health care continuum, including the final phase of life.

Eldercare experts say the end of life can be a particularly challenging time. Multiple issues often arise. Medical advances mean people are living longer than ever. However, increased longevity can be a double-edged sword; more people are also living with long-term chronic illnesses like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, chronic heart failure and Parkinson’s.

Hospice, a holistic philosophy that provides expert medical care, pain management, and spiritual and emotional support tailored to the individualized needs and wishes of patients and their families, is being embraced by boomers in record numbers and is expected to continue to grow. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), more than 1.5 million Americans are receiving hospice care, more than double the number just a decade ago.

“The same generation that advocated for sweeping social change in the ‘60s and ‘70s is insisting on improved end-of-life care options,” said Bill Finn, Chief Executive Officer of Hospice of the Western Reserve, one of the largest non-profit hospice agencies in the country.

“As caregivers for their own parents, baby boomers are witnessing first-hand the value of hospice and the comprehensive range of comfort and support it provides to seriously ill patients and their families as they cope with a complex range of physical, social, psychological and spiritual issues. They’re demanding a choice, and prefer to have a good quality of life at home, with their pain and symptoms well-controlled. They want to spend this valuable time with their families.”

Self-education and the development of a plan are the best way to ensure personal wishes and goals are met. Issues to consider include financial resources, long-range health care options, potential alternative living arrangements, and advance directives and living wills.

“Older adults want to remain as independent as possible. Planning ahead and doing the homework is important, because some decisions should not be left to chance or a crisis,” said Semanthie Brooks, Director of Community Advocacy, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. “To age successfully, means that not only do you understand the aging process, but you know where to get help when it is needed. To grow older in life with dignity is a gift that we all should share.”’

Finn said it is equally important to do one’s homework when choosing a hospice. Some hospice services are mandated, but not all, and the level and breadth of services can vary widely. “At Hospice of the Western Reserve, for example, we can offer our patients and families the most comprehensive range of music, art, massage and pet therapy in Northern Ohio because of the generous support we receive from the community.”

Finn said other facts to check include the number of certified hospice and palliative care medical professionals, the size and capabilities of the volunteer force, the range of bereavement services, and whet

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