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What Does Transitioning Mean?

Transitioning is a very specific term in hospice care.  It refers to the final stages of a person’s life.  It is recognized by trained hospice personnel by the changes in a patient’s body that signal that the patient is likely approaching death within a few hours to days.

– Dr. Iqbal, Palliative and Supportive Care Physician

Preparing Yourself and Your Family for Transitioning

Having a loved on on hospice is stressful enough.  But when you don’t understand what is being said about your loved one, it adds a whole new level of discomfort.  Taking a moment to educate yourself is important, but also realizing that medical professionals taking care of your loved one have no intention of using complicated words or or not involving you in your loved one’s care.  If you do not understand something, it is very appropriate and expected that you ask for clarification.  It is our job to make sure you are well informed of your loved one’s condition.  With that said, it is never a bad idea to educate yourself about the process so you can be prepared.

Nurses evaluating a patient are attentive to a host of conditions that a dying individual may develop.  These symptoms can be numerous and complex to manage.  Management of these symptoms is both an art and a science.

Death can happen in many ways.  Sometimes it is sudden and acute and we don’t see it coming, and other times, patients show classic signs of the body shutting down, which trained medical professionals can pick up on.  In the end, only God decides how long a person has and when their final moments on this Earth will be.

With that said, if you do hear a nurse or doctor tell you that they think your loved one is transitioning, they are telling you that they are seeing signs that they think your loved one may not have much time.  The word ‘transitioning’ has a unique meaning in hospice, and is used when nurses feel that the patient may pass away within the next few hours to days.  It is a way for medical professionals to let you know that they think the time may be near, and that you should prepare yourself, and notify family that the time may be near.

This may mean spending more time with your loved one as they transition.  It may mean asking your spiritual leaders to visit the home and pray with you and your loved one.  It may mean to ask your family to come over and spend time with your loved one before they pass away.  It may mean to finalize funeral arrangements if they haven’t been done.  It means different things for different people.  The hospice staff is trying to give you a warning so that if there is anything pending, that it may be addressed prior to your loved one passing away.

This time can be highly emotional and scary.  Realize you are not alone, and you have medical professional staff who are trained specifically in making sure your loved one is comfortable during this time.  They are there for you, and you should take advantage and reach out to hospice staff for anything you may need.

If you have questions, talk to your hospice nurse, patient advocate or patient facilitator.  They will be happy to discuss this further with you.