Death is inevitable.

As frightening as it can be to think about, death can happen at any age and from a range of causes.

For more than a decade, heart disease has remained the top killer in the United States. Cancer has also claimed the first (sometimes) and second spots as the leading causes of death in America.

Many of us have come to realize that death is no longer a mere abstraction.

We have taken care of parents or grandparents who were on death beds. Some of us have helped care for dying siblings, others have spent day and night visiting a dying spouse. In the worst cases, some of us have cradled children or infants as they died.

Dying does not have to be agonizing. Physical suffering can always be alleviated. Nobody has to die alone. Comfort and companionship can be provided to make patients happy in the last stages of their lives.

Hospice care is all about living peacefully towards the end of life. It’s about providing medical care to help someone with a terminal illness, improve the quality of life, and help to live as comfortably as possible for as long as possible.

What Is Hospice Care?

Hospice care is a form of health care that focuses on providing comfort to patients if they have life-limiting illnesses.

Generally, hospice care is provided to terminally ill patients who have six months or less to live.

The primary aim of hospice care is to provide comfort and quality of life by reducing pain and suffering.

If an illness has no cure, hospice care becomes an option.

Doctors and nurses who practice hospice care do not cure illnesses. Instead, they treat the patient’s symptoms to improve their quality of life. They also aim to provide emotional support to patients and family members.

Patients can receive hospice care within the following settings:

  • Nursing homes.
  • Hospitals.
  • At home.
  • Extended care facilities.

Types of Hospice Care:

There are four types of hospice care:

Routine Home Care:

Routine home care is the most common type of hospice care. At the end of life, patients mostly want to spend the majority of their time with their families and friends. Routine home care fulfills that wish and provides all the treatment that a patient receives in a hospital or other care facilities. During this session, the hospice team comes to a patient’s home to provide nursing, therapeutic, and spiritual care.

Continuous Home Care:

Continuous home care is provided when a patient needs care around-the-clock care. For example, if a cancer patient experiences severe pain, a hospice nurse might stay with the patient for an extended period of time to resolve the issue.

General In-patient Care:

Some symptoms can not be resolved or maintained at home. In such cases, a patient is required to have an in-patient hospice stay. At in-patient hospice stay, symptoms are monitored and addressed so that patients can return to receiving routine hospice care at home.

Respite Care:

Respite care is short-term care that provides a break to caregivers or home health aides when they get ‘burned out’.

When Should Hospice Care Start?

Hospice care begins when an illness is no longer curable.

Before the care starts, a qualified team of hospice care and the patient’s primary care doctor evaluates whether the patient meets the criteria for hospice care.

Generally, hospice care is provided when the patient:

  • has less than six months to live.
  • is not responding to treatment, and their quality of life rapidly declines.

In rare cases, a patient may receive hospice care and live longer than six months, if doctors recertify them.

Studies from the American Cancer Society reveal that patients often do not receive hospice care early enough.

In a 2007 study, it was found that 10% of patients receive hospice care too late which often results in patient dissatisfaction and other unmet needs.

What Happens During Hospice Care?

The primary objective of hospice care is to help a patient who is suffering from a terminal illness. Instead of carrying out tests and medical procedures, hospice care provides relief from pain or symptoms. The care also provides emotional and spiritual support.

During hospice care, the patient’s family members are asked to appoint a caregiver. This caregiver works closely with the hospice care doctors and nurses to communicate, and develop a customized plan.

The hospice care team will consist of healthcare professionals including:

  • Physicians or doctors
  • Nurses
  • Physical therapists
  • Caregivers
  • Nursing assistants.
  • Dietitians

The services the patient may receive include:

  • Medication to reduce pain.
  • Treatments to relieve symptoms and pain.
  • Medication to control other symptoms.
  • Mobility assistance.
  • Meal planning and nutrition services (provided by the caregiver).
  • Physical, speech, and occupational therapy.
  • Emotional support to patients and family members.
  • Assistance with daily living activities (Such as bathing, eating, and other activities).

Generally, the care is provided at the patient’s home. Hospice care team members will come to the patient’s home and provide care throughout the week and will be available 24/7 if the patient has additional needs. In severe cases, the patient may be transferred to a hospital.

The Takeaway:

Terminal illness can happen at any age and it is likely to lead to someone’s death. It’s also called a life-limiting illness.

There’s no right or wrong way to come to terms with death. But there is a right way to cope with the remaining days.

Hospice care is designed to make the last six months or less of a patient’s life as comfortable as possible. It helps relieve the pain and symptoms along with emotional support.

In the end, that’s what everyone wants. To live the remaining days as comfortably as possible with family and friends.

Many family members delay hospice care because they believe it is giving up.

This decision actually causes more pain in the end.

It’s better to follow the healthcare professionals’ advice so that the remaining six months become easy and comfortable for the patient.