What is a Hospice



September 21, 2020

“You matter because of who you are. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.” - Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the first modern hospice.

Hospice care is a special concept of care that focuses on providing comfort and support to patients and their families when a terminal illness, such as advanced cancer, is no longer responding to curative treatments. 

The goal of hospice care is to provide compassionate care for those in their last phases of incurable disease so that they may spend their last months with dignity and quality. The philosophy of hospice care accepts death as the final stage of life and does not try to postpone its occurrence. Hospice care focuses on treating the person and the symptoms of cancer, rather than the cancer itself. 

To navigate end-of-life care, it is important to understand how you can qualify for hospice and the specific services a hospice organization can provide you and your family.

What is Included in Hospice Services?

Like palliative care, hospice care is provided by an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, medical social workers, spiritual counselors, nursing assistants, volunteers and as necessary, dieticians, and physical, occupational and speech therapists. This team of professionals work together to ensure that you or a loved one can live your last months comfortably and to the fullest degree. Here are a list for some of common services that are offered through hospice care:

  • Palliative care and symptom management: the primary goal of including palliative care in hospice services is to help patients enjoy their last months of life by managing discomfort, pain, and other side effects related to their illness

  • Spiritual care: Spiritual needs and religious beliefs are often different between individuals. The hospice care team can set up spiritual care to meet you and your family’s specific needs. These needs may include helping you come to terms with death, helping you say goodbye, or even helping you with a religious ceremony or ritual

  • Family meetings: Members of the hospice team, such as the hospice nurse or social worker, can set up regular family meetings to keep everyone updated on your condition and what to expect. These meetings are beneficial to relieve stress, to offer everyone a chance to share feelings in a comfortable setting and to learn about death. 

  • Respite care: if you or a loved one is receiving hospice care at home, some hospice services will offer respite care in order for friends and family to spend time away from caregiving. This type of care can be given in 5 day intervals, in which the person receiving hospice care is cared for in a hospice facility.

  • Bereavement care: Bereavement is the period of mourning after the loss of a loved one. Members of the hospice care team, such as a professional counselor, may work with the family and friends to help through the grieving process. This type of support is offered through personal visits, phone calls, other support groups, or with a referral to other medical or professional care if needed. 

It is important to note that if a patient's health improves while receiving hospice services, or illness goes into remission, the patient's doctor may stop hospice services. Any patient has the right to discontinue hospice for any reason, and return to hospice at any time, if eligible.

When is it Time to Call Hospice?

Talking about when to call hospice can be difficult. If you are considering hospice for yourself or a loved one, it is important to note that this is not about losing hope. When a cure is no longer possible or aggressive treatment is no longer desired, hospice care provides a compassionate approach to your end of life needs. 

Hospice services can begin as soon as a referral is made by your doctor. These services are given to those who are diagnosed with a terminal disease and are expected to live 6 months or less. You may also consider hospice if you or your loved one is experiencing any of the following:

  • Frequent visits to the ER

  • A decline in ability to perform daily tasks and activities

  • An increase in falls

  • Change to mental abilities

  • Signs of deteriorating health such as infections, progressive weight loss, or skin tears

Another requirement of hospice care is that when deciding to receive hospice, you must forgo your current curative treatment either because it is no longer effective or you wish to stop it. 

For example, if you were diagnosed with advanced cancer with an estimated three months to live, you must now only receive care to manage your symptoms and enhance your quality of life in order to receive hospice services. This “comfort care” is provided in lieu of aggressive treatment plans such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Challenging Discussions about Hospice 

No one wants to think about death and losing someone they love. For that reason, many families delay discussions about end-of-life care. If you are asking yourself when to call hospice, there is a good chance you or your loved one may already be eligible to receive this added layer of uniquely specialized care and support. 

While the decision regarding when to begin care is highly personal and variable, seeking a referral sooner rather than later will help ensure that one passes comfortably and with dignity. If you believe that you or your loved one may benefit from the services and support of a hospice program, the next step is to find a hospice facility that matches your desires for end of life care.