Family Health, Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

Why Hospice Doesn't Mean Giving Up

Many people have a preconceived negative notion of hospice – often associating it with “giving up” on a loved one. In reality, hospice care focuses on the quality rather than the length of life, providing compassionate care for people in the last stages of a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure.

What is Hospice?

A common myth is that hospice is a place, but it is actually a specialized type of care designed to provide support during an advanced illness. This includes medical care, pain management and emotional support. Hospice not only cares for the patient, but also helps family members manage the practical details and emotional challenges of caring for a loved one. “Hospice is about more than care for the dying,” said Niki Koesel, MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, director of Palliative Care at Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Cancer Institute. “It’s a change in focus from curing the patient to concentrating on comfort and quality of life.” Hospice cares for more than 1.65 million Americans and their families every year, and the number continues to grow. “As the baby boomer population ages, we can expect a growing need for hospice care,” said Koesel.

What Type of Care Does Hospice Provide?

The primary service of hospice is pain and symptom control. This includes doctor or nursing care, medications to manage symptoms, medical supplies, emotional support and counseling, and social work or home health aide services. Hospice services also cover total coordination of care, family and patient emotional support, respite care to ease the burden on family members and bereavement care after the loss of a loved one. Care is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Hospice services are very individualized, and a team of medical professionals will work with the patient and the family to determine the best course of care for each situation,” said Koesel.

When is the Right Time for Hospice?

Typically, hospice care starts as soon as a request or a referral is made by the patient’s physician. “End-of-life care may be difficult to discuss, but it’s really best for family members to make those wishes known before it becomes a worry,” said Koesel. “Early communication in the family can bring peace of mind about end-of-life choices and establish a sound overall plan that may include hospice care.”

How Do I Choose a Hospice?

Hospice care may be offered in a hospice facility, hospital, nursing home or other long-term care facility. The majority of patients however – nearly 70 percent – get hospice care in their own homes. Families can work with their health care provider on selecting a hospice solution that’s best for them.

So … Is Hospice Care “Giving Up?”

Not at all. “Although a loved one’s condition may have reached a point where a cure is not likely, that does not mean that care for that person should end,” said Koesel. “With hospice care and an emphasis on quality of life, the patient gets the opportunity to spend his or her final days focusing on the things that are most meaningful to them.” Additionally, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that early hospice care actually improves quality of life and may even lead to longer survival. “The common misconception about hospice is that it is a last resort and that a person must be bedridden to receive help,” said Koesel. “This is certainly not the case. Hospice care often gives patients more quality time to spend with the people they love, and it gives families the support they need to guide themselves through the changes ahead. Overall, it makes for a much less stressful experience for everyone.”