Hospices Offer Comfort at Life's End

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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 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 ill.  

Team approach

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

  • Counselors

  • Family members

  • Healthcare provider

  • Home health aides

  • Nurse

  • Pastoral care services

  • Social worker

  • Trained volunteers

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 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 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

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2017
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