Hospice care is one of those things in life about which most of us want to know as little as possible. We bury our heads in the sand and wait until someone in our family needs it before we learn what it is and how it works. But unfortunately, if you wait too long, you may not be able to take full advantage of the many benefits of this end-of-life care.
Recently I spent four days in a hospice center with a family member and was surprised at how little I knew about “hospice.”
What is hospice?
Hospice care is designed to maximize quality of life for patients who are suffering from a disease or condition that cannot be cured and have a life expectancy of six months or less. This type of care is palliative, which means it relieves and controls pain and other symptoms as well as provides emotional and spiritual support without attempting to cure the disease. The goal of hospice care is that you remain as alert and comfortable as possible in the last stages of your life.
My family member was given oxygen therapy and pain medication, but only as needed. In a hospital, doctors may have put her on a ventilator and given her stronger drugs that would’ve made her unable to engage with those around her.
Who cares for you?
Generally your primary caregiver will be a family member or someone else who is close to you, with members of the hospice team making regular visits to assess your condition and provide additional care. Hospice staff are on call round-the-clock, should you need them. The hospice team generally includes:
- Hospice physician (or medical director)
- Home health aides
- Social workers
- Clergy or other counselors
- Trained volunteers
- Speech, physical, and occupational therapists, if needed.
At home, my family member received daily visits from her son and daughter; however, a hospice nurse also visited to help with medication and manage her condition.
Where can you get hospice care?
Most people assume that hospice care is only available at home. While this is the primary location for this type of care, you can also receive care at a hospice center, in a hospital or a skilled nursing facility.
After an event made 24/7 care necessary for my family member, she was transferred from her home to a hospice center rather than a hospital. This course was taken because she had chosen hospice care months before. She could’ve returned home if her health had improved.
How does hospice help family members?
In addition to support services for family members, hospice programs also provide respite care when caregivers require temporary care—whether to recharge their batteries or for any other reason. Respite care is often offered in up to five-day periods. Hospice programs also generally offer bereavement services for approximately a year after the patient’s death.