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Hospices Offer Comfort at Life's End

It’s a subject no one wants to think about. But for each of us, our lives must come to an end.

Advances in medicine may help us live longer and the end can linger. This drains patients and loved ones alike. So more and more people are turning to hospice care.

Hospice is not just for elderly adults or people with cancer. People with diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig disease), Parkinson', and HIV may choose hospice. Children also get hospice care.  Hospice is designed to provide comfort (palliation) for people with health problems where there is no cure. The focus is on caring and helping control pain and other symptoms caused by disease.

Using hospice care to the end of life treats pain and disease symptoms. It helps make people as comfortable and functional as possible to the end of life. Counseling helps people and families come to terms with the process.

Hospice and health plans

Medicare, Medicaid, and most health plans cover hospice programs. People can enter hospice care when a healthcare provider determines that the patient has a life-threatening illness with 6 months or less to live.

The person, family, and healthcare provider decide when hospice service should start. The person may choose to stop hospice at any time if they decide to resume treatment toward a cure.

Although a person enters hospice with less than 6 months to live, hospice services don't automatically end at 6 months. Some people in hospice care live much longer. Insurance may continue to provide hospice coverage after 6 months, as long as the person's healthcare provider again puts in writing that the person is terminally ill.  

Team approach

Typically, a team of people treats the hospice patient. The team can include:

  • Counselors

  • Family members

  • Healthcare providers

  • Home health or hospice aides

  • Nurses

  • Pastoral care services

  • Social workers

  • Trained volunteers

The goal is to control pain and symptoms. The person is comfortable yet alert enough to make decisions. The team also helps the family through the grieving process.

Some hospices have a facility where people get care in their final days. But most hospice programs bring healthcare providers, nurses, and other staff to people’s homes. Surveys show most Americans prefer it that way.

A hospice can give family caregivers a break through respite care. A trained caregiver will step in to allow family members some time off.

Even with these benefits, many people still have the misunderstanding that you come to hospice at the end of your life.

Instead of waiting until the very last moment to enter hospice, hospice staff recommend that families discuss end-of-life issues well in advance, while people can still state their wishes.

Hospice also offers many support services for patients and families. The relationship that develops with the hospice staff allows patients to work through anticipated grieving as well as the planning of end-of-life issues. Patients are grateful knowing that their family will not be left behind with no one to help them. Final preparations are made in partnership with the patient. The final days can then be spent on closure, knowing that everything has been done to help the patient through the shift to dying.

To learn more

To learn about hospice care in your area, check into these resources:

  • Healthcare providers, nurses, and other healthcare providers

  • Social workers, clergy, and other counselors

  • Friends or neighbors who have dealt with hospice care

  • Internet search engines

  • Your local yellow pages

  • Local or state offices on aging or senior centers

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Buslovich MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Wanda Taylor RN PhD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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