What Is Hospice?
During the course of your illness, you may come to realize that treatments meant to cure or slow your disease are no longer working. Although it's a difficult decision, you've concluded that the burdens of aggressive treatment outweigh any benefits, and you're unwilling to endure any more discomfort or risk of harm.
Instead, you'd rather spend your remaining time with family and friends. Maybe you yearn to reflect on your life and create a legacy for your loved ones, such as a journal or a videotaped message. Perhaps you need to put your financial affairs in order, or seek spiritual guidance as death nears.
Despite your illness, the quality of each day still matters to you. You want relief from pain, from shortness of breath, and from other symptoms so that you can focus on the matters dearest to you, including saying good-bye to your loved ones.
That's when hospice, or end-of-life care, may help.
Hospice is a type of palliative care, but differs in important ways. Palliative care serves anyone who is seriously ill, not just those who are dying. Palliative care itself doesn't seek to cure, but provides pain relief and symptom management, and addresses the emotional and spiritual needs of patients and families. Many patients receive palliative care while they're still pursuing a cure.
Hospice also provides wide-ranging care and support to patients and families. However, hospice patients stop curative treatments, although they still receive medications to manage pain and other symptoms. Hospice serves people with a life-expectancy of six months or less because of cancer, dementia, heart disease, lung disease, and other illnesses.
Hospice emphasizes quality of life and patient involvement in decision making. A hospice team typically includes a doctor, nurse, social worker, counselor, chaplain, home health aide, and trained volunteers. They work together to meet a patient's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Hospice is for family members, too. It can provide respite care, bereavement counseling, and help with practical matters such as transportation and household duties.
Eligibility for Hospice
You're eligible to enter hospice care if your doctor states that you have a terminal illness and that death can be expected in six months or less if your illness follows its normal course. However, you may stay in hospice beyond six months if your doctor and the hospice team certify that you still have only a short time to live.
Bear in mind that hospice isn't always a permanent choice. For example, some elderly patients with failing kidneys choose hospice rather than undergo dialysis. But they can still change their minds, leave hospice, and pursue dialysis after all. Or if a patient's illness improves, he or she can leave hospice and return later.