Health Library

Hospices Offer Comfort at Life's End

It's a subject no one wants to think about, but every life must come to an end.

As medical progress helps people live longer, the end can linger, draining people and their loved ones alike. So more and more people are turning to hospice care.

Hospice is not just for the elderly people or cancer patients. Children get hospice care, as do people with degenerative diseases like Lou Gehrig disease, Parkinson disease, and HIV.

This holistic approach to the end of life treats pain and disease symptoms to make the person as comfortable and functional as possible. Counseling helps people and their families come to terms with the process.

Hospice and health plans

Medicaid and most health plans cover hospice programs. You can enter hospice care when your healthcare provider determines that you have a life-threatening illness, and says that you have 6 months or less to live. You, your family, and your healthcare provider decide when hospice service should begin.

Although you enter hospice with less than 6 months to live, hospice services don't automatically end at 6 months. Some people in hospice care live much longer. Insurance may or may not continue to provide hospice coverage after 6 months, as long as your healthcare provider again puts in writing that you are terminally ill.

Team approach

Typically, a team of people treats you in hospice. The team includes your family and a healthcare provider, a nurse, counselors, a social worker, pastoral care services, home health aides, and trained volunteers. The goal is to control pain and symptoms so that you are comfortable yet alert enough to make decisions. The team also helps your family through the grieving process.

Some hospices have a facility where people receive care in their final days. But most hospice programs bring healthcare providers, nurses, and other staff to your home. Surveys show most Americans prefer it that way.

A hospice can give family caregivers a break through respite care. A trained caregiver will step in to allow family members some time off.

Even with these benefits, many people still have the misunderstanding that you come to hospice at the end of your life.

Instead of waiting until the very last moment to enter hospice, hospice staff recommend that families discuss end-of-life issues well in advance, while you can still state your wishes.

Hospice also offers many support services for you and your family. The relationship that develops with the hospice staff allows the care receivers to work through anticipated grieving as well as the planning of end-of-life issues. Patients say they appreciate knowing that their family will not be left behind with no one to help them. Final preparations are made in partnership with you, the patient. The final days can then be spent on closure, knowing that everything has been done to help you through the shift to dying.

To learn more

To learn about hospice care in your area, check into these resources:

  • Healthcare providers, nurses, and other healthcare professionals

  • Social workers, clergy, and other counselors

  • Friends or neighbors who have dealt with hospice care

  • Internet search engines

  • Your local yellow pages

  • Local or state offices on aging or senior centers