More adults die at home than in the hospital, according to a New England Journal of Medicine 2019 study. Terminally-ill patients can greatly benefit from hospice care. But, it’s important to understand what hospice is, the benefits to patients and families, and how to access it.
What is hospice care?
Typically, hospice care begins when a disease, such as advanced cancer, gets to the point when treatment can no longer cure or control it. In general, hospice care should be used when a person is expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its usual course. (Patients can stay on hospice for longer than six months).
At this point, care shifts from lifesaving to life-affirming; making the patient comfortable and peaceful. Under the direction of the patient’s doctor, specially-trained nurses help manage pain, symptoms, and other medical needs. Social workers, clergy, and volunteers come alongside to support family caregivers.
The goal is to provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of both patient and family. Starting hospice earlier makes this more likely.
Hospice is most often provided at home. It’s also delivered at nursing homes, residential facilities, or inpatient hospice centers, depending on patient needs.
Misconceptions About Hospice
Common myths about hospice include:
• Starting hospice care means a person is giving up. The decision to enter hospice care is unique to each patient, but people generally make this choice when prolonged treatment becomes ineffective and results in a poorer quality of life.
• Hospice and palliative care are the same things. Hospice services often include palliative care, but palliative care isn’t exclusive to those in end-of-life care. Hospice care supports those nearing the end of life. Palliative care manages pain and other symptoms resulting from non-life-threatening illnesses.
• Hospice care is expensive. Medicare and Medicaid plans, and many health plans cover hospice services.
• Hospice is only for the elderly and those with cancer. Most people in need of hospice care are older, but services are available for all ages and diagnoses.
Benefits of End-of-Life Care
For many families, hospice care offers several benefits, including:
• 24/7 support: A care team is on-call all hours of the day, providing assurance to families that support will be available when they need it.
• Control: Individuals can remain in their own home, without the intrusion of hospital staff. It also allows them an opportunity to actively weigh in on their care.
• Family help: respite services enable loved ones to take breaks. Social workers and chaplains offer emotional and grief counseling for the family. Staff can also help families navigate tasks such as planning burial or funeral services.
Individuals and families facing a terminal diagnosis should talk to a primary care physician to discuss if or when hospice care may be an appropriate option. You may also contact CHP Hospice directly with questions or to start services.