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Are Hospice Patients Given Sleep-Aids?

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
April 23, 2015

Question: I have heard that hospice patients are given narcotics to get them to sleep. Is this true?

Answer: There are a lot of misunderstandings about medications given at the end of life. Let me explain how the process works. The hospice doctor has specialized training in using medications to relieve any symptoms the patient might be having. That might be pain, trouble breathing, nausea, etc. The goal of palliative care treatments is to match the right medicine to the right symptom.  For example: if someone is having a lot of pain, a narcotic might be given which has a side effect of making the patient sleepy. The patient’s pain gets under control so then the person can get some sleep because they finally have relief from their pain. So it may look like the narcotic was given to get them to sleep, but the sleepiness is a side effect of helping the person have less pain. If you have questions about the medications being given to your loved one, please speak with the hospice doctor or nurse. They will be glad to answer your specific questions.

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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