Hospice care helps people and their loved ones at the end of life. This whole-person care honors a person’s goals, values, and beliefs.
Nurses, doctors, counselors, and other hospice team members work closely with loved ones. They help loved ones process their grief and support them as they care for them.
Hospice care workers focus on the comfort of a person with a serious illness. They help assure the highest quality of life for whatever time may remain.
Medicare includes a dedicated hospice benefit and most private health care plans cover hospice care to varying degrees.
What Is Hospice Care?
Hospice care is for people with a life-limiting illness and a shortened life expectancy. People often start hospice after they choose to stop treatments aimed at curing or slowing their disease.
They may stop treatments because they aren’t working. Or, they may decide the effort and side effects aren’t worth it.
Doctors refer people to hospice care when they have six months or less to live. However, people will keep getting hospice care if they live longer.
Once in hospice care, you will receive care that focuses on improving your quality of life. Treatment for diseases (like diabetes) often is still possible. To keep getting treatment for an illness, talk to the hospice team before you sign up.
While in hospice, the main goals of treatment are to:
- Relieve pain.
- Improve quality of life.
- Ease uncomfortable symptoms.
- Treat anxiety and depression.
- Provide support for the whole person, not just the disease.
- Focus not just on the patient, but on the family as well.
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Where Does Hospice Care Occur?
Depending on the person’s wishes and needs, hospice care can happen in:
- A person’s home.
- An assisted living center.
- A nursing home.
- A hospital.
- A hospice center.
Hospice care teams can also follow people from one place to the next. For instance, they may first treat people at home but then care for them in the hospital.
Who Is on a Hospice Care Team?
Hospice care teams can vary based on the group giving the care and a person’s area and needs. Hospice care teams often include many of the following:
- Social workers.
- Home care aides.
- Physical or occupational therapists.
- Religious or spiritual advisors.
- Mental health workers.
- Music and art therapists.
- Grief counselors.
- Volunteers for respite and companionship.
What are typical hospice services?
Hospice care is not given full-time. However, a care team member is always on call in case of an acute health problem. A loved one can get advice right away over the phone and a same-day visit if needed.
People may receive many types of hospice care based on their needs:
- Managing medicines, including side effects and interactions.
- Emotional and spiritual support.
- Supplies to help the person get around, such as a walker or wheelchair.
- Help with pain relief. This may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and non-medical interventions like massage.
- Nursing care.
- Health aides to help with daily tasks, like bathing.
- Nutritional support for people with low appetite or difficulty eating.
- Oxygen therapy to help with breathing.
Hospice Versus Palliative Care: Similarities and Differences
Hospice care and palliative care are similar in that they both work to improve the person’s overall quality of life. They focus on the most vital issues for the person and their family. That may be poor sleep, pain, mental health, or many other issues.
Hospice is a form of palliative care. Every patient in hospice care receives palliative care; however, you don’t need to be on hospice care to get palliative care.
However, hospice care is only for people in the final stage of their illness. These people are trying to make the most of their time rather than make their lives longer.
Palliative care, meanwhile, can happen at the same time as treatments that may cure a disease or prolong life. For example, palliative care can help a person getting chemotherapy for cancer with symptoms like nausea, fatigue, or anxiety. That person would need to stop chemotherapy when entering hospice care.
What Are the Pros of Hospice Care For People and Loved Ones?
Hospice care has rewards for both people and their loved ones. Hospice care aims to ease people’s physical and emotional pain.
Hospice care doctors care for treatment side effects and watch for drug interactions. They also take the person’s goals into their treatment choices. For example, a hospice doctor may avoid a treatment that makes a person tired if they want to finish a crucial project.
Hospice care can also help people and loved ones make vital choices. Health care workers can ease talks about how, when, and where to best provide care. The hospice team teaches the family about the dying process and helps them gain confidence in caring for their loved one.
Counselors, advisors, or social workers are part of the hospice team. They can help family members come to terms with a loved one’s coming death. They can help the family pursue additional resources in the care of their loved one.
Hospices also offer support for loved ones in the months after a person’s passing.
How Does a Person Access Hospice Care?
Research shows that people often get hospice care late when they only have weeks to live rather than months. People and loved ones who get hospice care sooner may gain more from the support it offers.
Doctors may not want to suggest hospice care out of fear that people and loved ones will see this as ‘giving up.’ In reality, hospice care can allow people to make the most of the time they have left.
People and their loved ones can address doctors’ worries by talking to their family doctor or a specialist. A person’s doctor can then start the process. For insurance coverage, the person’s doctor and main hospice doctor must agree that it is unlikely they will live beyond six months.
People with a deadly disease may also tell their family members and doctor about their feelings about hospice care. Even if this is not expected for a year or more, sharing your wishes helps ease the hospice talk when needed.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life. Our team of experts has a wide knowledge of heart conditions.