What Is Hospice Care?

Many people know that hospice is associated with the final stage of life, which is accurate, but it doesn’t fully answer the question “What is hospice care?” Hospice care is specialized end-of-life care. When a terminally ill patient forgoes curative treatment, an interdisciplinary team of hospice professionals steps in to provide medical, spiritual and psychological support in the shared goal of providing a comfortable and dignified transition from life to death. They work to treat the person in their charge and the symptoms of the disease, but not the disease itself. Hospice team members will likely include:

  • A doctor to prescribe the correct course of care
  • A nurse to oversee day-to-day care
  • Aides to provide some assistance with dressing, bathing, cleaning and cooking
  • Chaplin or spiritual adviser
  • Social worker or counselor to help both the patient and their loved ones

Depending on the individual’s condition, a physical or speech therapist may become an important part of the care team as well. Their role is to ensure safety and independence, as well as quality of life while the patient is in hospice care.

How to Know When Hospice Care Is Needed

Hospice care is about living as well as possible up to the last moment. With that goal in mind, many still wonder how to know when hospice care is needed. To be eligible for hospice care, a patient must have a life-limiting illness, and a doctor must determine that the patient’s life expectancy is no more than six months.

End-of-life treatment can be a difficult subject to broach, even for doctors, because many people feel like they should always keep fighting an illness. But if a treatment plan is no longer working, it may be time to speak to the medical team about hospice and enjoy quality of life in the remaining time.

Where to Receive Hospice Care

Hospice patients can receive care in their residence — whether that’s a house or a senior living community. Some patients choose to receive treatment in a dedicated hospice residential facility. And if the patient is experiencing symptoms that need extensive management, they may move to a hospital.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

These terms are often confused because both types of treatment promote quality of life for people facing serious illnesses. But palliative care doesn’t require the patient to forgo curative efforts. They can still fight their illness while receiving holistic social, emotional and practical support.

Additionally, hospice services are covered by Medicaid, Medicare and most private health insurance plans, but palliative care isn’t guaranteed. Some care plans may cover all or part of palliative care, but a patient would need to check with their provider.

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