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 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 the elderly or cancer patients. Children receive hospice care.
As well as patients with diseases like Lou Gehrig disease, Parkinson disease, and
HIV. Hospice is designed to provide comfort (palliation) for patients with medical
problems where there is no cure.
Using hospice care to the end of life treats pain and disease symptoms. It helps make
patients as comfortable and functional as possible to the end of life. Counseling
helps patients and families come to terms with the process.
Hospice and health plans
Medicare, Medicaid, and most health plans cover hospice programs. Patients can enter
hospice care when a healthcare provider determines that the patient has:
A life-threatening illness 6 months or less to live
The patient, family, and healthcare provider decide when hospice service should begin.
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 or may not continue to provide hospice coverage after 6 months, as long
as the patient's healthcare provider again puts in writing that the patient is terminally
Typically, a team of people treats the hospice patient. The team can include:
Home health aides
Pastoral care services
The goal is to control pain and symptoms. The patient 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 receive care in their final days. But most
hospice programs bring healthcare providers, nurses, and other staff to patients’
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
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 professionals
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