What is Hospice?
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What Is Hospice?

Hospice is a service available to patients who are unlikely to live for more than six months.

The entire family receives support. The goal is for patients and their loved ones to have opportunities to live well despite the terminal diagnosis. Comfort, emotional support and clinical management are all aspects of hospice care.

Doesn't Choosing Hospice Mean Giving Up?

This is a very common misconception. Actually, studies indicate that patients who receive hospice services often outlive those who don’t receive them. Aggressive treatments for cancer often lower the quality and length of lives of people who are faced with terminal illnesses.

What Can Hospice Do to Support a Terminally Ill Person?

Hospice services may be provided in the patient’ home, in a care facility or in a hospice facility. These services ensure patients who are in the final stages of their lives have the opportunity to live with dignity and comfort, and help to tie up loose ends so they can die peacefully.

Meeting with a hospice representative can help patients decide if hospice is right for them by providing accurate information about the disease process. Once patients are knowledgeable about their prognosis, they often decide to live their lives as fully as possible, rather than subjecting themselves to further medical testing or last ditch treatment efforts. Their quality of life often improves and they get to spend quality time with loved ones and get their houses in order.

Hospice workers are patient advocates. Each patient is provided with a case manager who coordinates all aspects of care. Hospice workers also help patients clarify their wishes regarding end of life care. They answer questions about advanced directives, allowing patients to make informed choices about hydration, artificial nutrition, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, medication and artificial ventilation. Patients are empowered to choose health care proxies who they can be confident will follow their wishes if the need arises.

Private and government-funded insurance programs provide reimbursement for hospice care. All medical services a patient needs related to his or her hospice diagnosis are paid for when a person enrolls in hospice.

Hospice services afford patients with access to health care professionals who are experts at managing symptoms such as pain, weakness and shortness of breath that often plague people who are in the final stages of life.

Medication management is another important part of patient care. Hospice medical and nursing personnel are experts at helping to relieve suffering, and medications are judiciously used to relieve symptoms.

Staff educate patients and families about the use of medications and their side effects. Being knowledgeable and realizing that the dying process can be made easier relieves stress and fear for most people facing the end of their lives.

In addition to the clinical aspects of care, hospice workers provide gentle, understanding support. Holding a patient’s hand, listening to life stories and reassuring patients that their lives have value ensure that patients live out their days with the dignity they deserve.

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What Can Hospice Do to Support Family Members?

The most important services that hospice workers provide for family members are education and emotional support. Family members are not only stressed by the future loss of a loved one; they are often stressed time-wise, financially, spiritually, and energetically. Helping to alleviate stress is an important benefit hospice provides for family members. An understanding ear is readily available.

Respite services are available for tired family caregivers. Caregivers need breaks so that they can recharge and not become ill themselves. Caregivers have increased risks of developing anxiety, cardiac illness, depression, fatigue and infections. Providing caregivers with the ability to take care of themselves is an important part of hospice care. Hospice volunteers are available to sit with patients so family members may take time for themselves.

Help is provided for maneuvering through complex medical systems. Hospice workers are specially educated to ensure that family members understand symptoms and their management. They can also help to create advance directives and funeral arrangements.

Hospice workers understand that everyone grieves differently. They provide compassionate, non-judgmental insight and support for what family members feel. Special programs are available to help children who are losing or have lost love ones and spiritual support is available with the assistance of a hospice chaplain.

Financial burdens can arise as a result of caring for a sick loved one. The patient may have been ill for an extended period of time and wages and jobs may have been lost as a result, not to mention the potentially overwhelming cost of items needed to care for the patient. Hospice workers can help family members to complete applications for community programs that may ease some financial burdens.

Patients and family members are often at different stages of the grieving process simultaneously. Some family members may want the patient to “fight harder” against the disease while others may feel anger or deep sadness. A hospice worker can help to relieve the suffering of all family members. Having access to hospice reduces the feelings of isolation that many family members experience.

And hospice is there for family members even after their loved one passes. Grief support groups can help survivors get through the trauma of loss.

How Do I Access Hospice Services?

A referral from a physician is required. Ask your doctor or case manager how to access hospice services. Once a referral is made, an appointment will be scheduled for the patient and family to meet with hospice representative and a detailed introduction to hospice services will be provided.

The hospice team will conduct an evaluation to ensure that the patient meets hospice regulatory requirements and is eligible for services. If the person meets the requirements, hospice services will commence and an individualized service plan will be developed that will be beneficial for the patient and family.