During an illness that can’t be cured, you or a loved one may decide the treatments meant to cure or slow a disease are no longer working, or you’re ready to stop them. Even with death on the horizon, the quality of each day is important to you.
You want relief from pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms so that you can focus on the people and things you care about the most. That's when hospice, or end-of-life care, may help.
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Some people might think using hospice means they're giving up. Others may worry that they won’t get the medical care they need. But the service simply focuses on the quality of your life instead of trying to extend it.
Your team may include a doctor, nurse, social worker, counselor, chaplain (if you’re religious), home health aide, and trained volunteers. They work together to meet your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Hospice is for family members, too. It offers counseling and help with practical things such as cleaning house and shopping.
When Can I Join Hospice Care?
You may enter a program if your doctor states that you have a terminal illness and that death can be expected in 6 months or less. You can stay in hospice beyond that time if your doctor and the team decide you still have only a short time to live.
Hospice isn't always a permanent choice.
For example, if your kidneys are failing, you might choose the hospice program rather than continuing with dialysis. But you can still change your mind, stop hospice care, and start back on treatments. Other people may get better unexpectedly and quit the service with the option of returning later.
Hospice differs from palliative care, which serves anyone who is seriously ill, not just those who are dying and no longer seeking a cure.
Can I Stay at Home -- and Should I?
Hospice offers four levels of care, two of which happen at home. The four levels are:
Routine Home Care. The most common level of hospice care, this includes nursing and home health aide services.
Continuous Home Care. This is when a patient needs continuous nursing care during a time of crisis.
General Inpatient Care. Short-term care during times when pain and symptoms can’t be managed without a hospital setting.
Respite Care. Short-term care in a facility during times when the patient’s caregiver needs a break in caregiving.