When should you begin to have a discussion about hospice care? Many people think that hospice care means everyone has given up and it is only meant for people who have a few days left to live.
Because of these misconceptions, many people’s loved ones miss out on the benefits of hospice care.
Without all the services hospice provides, a difficult and painful situation can be needlessly made even harder.
What is Hospice?
The word hospice comes from the Latin word for “guesthouse” and was used to describe a place of shelter for weary and sick travelers (Hospice Foundation of America, 2006). Dr. Cecely Saunders, a prominent physician in England, originated the contemporary concept of hospice in the 1960’s. Her program was the first to bring a comprehensive professional team approach and modern pain management techniques to the care of terminally ill patients.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross, perhaps one of the most well known physicians to write about death and dying in this country, worked tirelessly to change the way the dying are treated by health care providers.
Most people think hospice care is reserved for when the end of life is imminent and don’t ask their primary care provider about its services at the beginning of the six month benefit. The median length of a hospice stay is just 20 days. Yet, more than 98 percent of family members who have experienced hospice care for a loved one would recommend hospice to others, according to the New York Times.
Hospice provides a wide range of services involving an interdisciplinary team of professionals. Available 24 hours a day, hospice comes to wherever your loved one calls home, whether that’s an assisted living facility or a private residence. Hospice provides trained nurses to take care of your loved one’s medical needs, aides to help with daily care, equipment such as a hospital bed, and also a social worker to help the family, a chaplain if you’d like, and volunteers who will stay with your loved one to give you a break. And most health insurance, including Medicare, covers hospice care.
The mission of hospice care is to affirm life and help people die without pain and with dignity. Hospice can be called once a person’s condition is determined to be life-limiting.
Asking for hospice may be incredibly difficult, because it means coming to terms with a loved one’s death. Doctors and, often, family members want to do everything possible to fight the disease and continue treatment. Whenever a decision is made that further curative treatment will not prolong life, comfort care becomes the treatment of choice.
Hospice care doesn’t hasten or postpone death: it aims to make the person as comfortable as possible for the rest their life. Deciding when the time has come to consider hospice isn’t easy.
To help you make the decision, ask yourself the following questions:
- Has your loved one asked to end curative treatment for a prolonged illness?
- What are the medical providers saying about the condition?
- Does your loved one want to stay at home rather than return to hospital?
- Is your loved one no longer receiving treatments to cure their disease?
If your loved one is benefitting from curative treatments, hospice care may not be the right treatment at this time. But if you feel that continued medical treatment isn’t going to change the course of the disease, it may be time to consider hospice care.
Planning for hospice care in advance often means that the person will have the time it requires to peacefully bring closure to a lifetime of accomplishments and relationships. Ideally, there can be time to share, reminisce, bring closure to issues and say good-bye.
If you have any experience with this situation that you’d like to share with others, please do so in the comments below.
For more information, please review our Hospice & Palliative Care Resources.