As a hospice director, I always start my conversation with, “What questions do you have about hospice?” I do this because there are so many pre-conceived notions, stereotypes and misinformation about hospice that it’s easier to find what the family is worried about before going into a more in-depth explanation.
Discussing hospice is often a very difficult conversation, but it doesn’t have to be. Here is an overview of what hospice is and when it might be appropriate to enter hospice care.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care focuses on relief from physical suffering. The patient could be receiving treatment for a disease or may be living with a chronic disease, and may or may not be terminally ill. It treats the patient holistically, linking the physical body with mental, social and spiritual well-being in treatment. Unfortunately, there’s virtually no standardized model for palliative care and it receives very little funding. And while there are groups actively advocating for it in Congress, it’s still a term often used in healthcare as a way of avoiding the difficult conversation of hospice.
What is hospice?
Does hospice mean you’re going to die? Well, yes, but we all are. Hospice by definition posits that a person’s disease will terminate life within six months. This is not a hard and fast number, as people could be on hospice indefinitely so long as the physician deems the disease process is life limiting. Patients can live and even thrive on hospice care for years, while living happier, more comfortable lives with less symptoms.
The goal in hospice is the same as palliative care: whole person symptom management, not just pain. This is especially true with cardiac and respiratory diseases, where patients may be in and out of the hospital month after month. Once enrolled in hospice, they can live quite comfortably.
Hospice involves a team of nurses, doctors, aides, spiritual counselors, social workers, volunteers and more, all working together to remove the burden of planning and caring for loved ones. No need to travel to the doctor or drug store. No Amazon packages filled with bathroom supplies. This relief helps families spend what remaining time exists being with each other, rather than working and running around.
If someone you know could benefit from hospice care, don’t wait. It’s seldom heard that someone went into hospice too soon. Usually, people wish they’d gone sooner. To find and learn more about hospice, talk to your doctor. For testimonials on what hospice can provide, ask neighbors, friends and family. You can also find information at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or the National Association of Home Care and Hospice.