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.
As medical progress prolongs our lives, the end can linger, draining 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 do patients with neurologically progressive degenerative
diseases like Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's disease, and HIV.
This holistic approach to the end of life treats pain and disease symptoms
to make the patient as comfortable and functional as possible. Counseling
helps patients and families come to terms with the process.
Idea has spread
Three decades after hospices spread to the U.S. from Britain, more than
1.3 million Americans receive hospice care each year, according to the
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).
Medicare, Medicaid, and most health plans cover hospice programs. A patient
can enter hospice care when a doctor assesses that the patient has a terminal
illness, and says that he or she has six months or less to live. The patient,
family, and doctor decide when hospice service should begin.
Although a person enters hospice with less than six months to live, hospice
services don't automatically end at six months. Some people in hospice
care live much longer. Medicare, for instance, continues to provide hospice
coverage after six months, as long as the patient's doctor recertifies
that the patient is terminally ill.
Typically, a hospice patient is treated by a team of people. The team includes
not only the patient's family members, but also a doctor, a nurse,
counselors, a social worker, pastoral care services, home health aides,
and trained volunteers. The goal is to control pain and symptoms so that
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 doctors, 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. Under Medicare,
a patient under respite care can be cared for at home, at a hospice center,
or at a hospital.
Despite these benefits, many people still have the misperception that you
come to hospice at the end of a person's life.
Instead of a person waiting until the very last moment to enter hospice,
hospice staff urge families to discuss end-of-life issues well in advance,
while an ill person can still state his or her wishes.
Hospice also offers a multitude of support services for the patient and
family. The relationship that develops with the hospice staff allows the
care receivers to work through anticipatory grieving as well as the logistics
of end-of-life issues. Patients express gratitude knowing that their family
will not be left behind with no one to help them. Final preparations are
made in collaboration with the patient. The final days can then be spent
on closure, knowing that everything has been done to help the patient
through the transition of dying.
To learn more
To learn about hospice care in your area, check into these resources:
Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals
Social workers, clergy, and other counselors
Friends or neighbors who have experienced hospice care
Internet search engines
Your local yellow pages
Local or state offices on aging or senior centers