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What Is Hospice Care?

By , Caring.com Senior Editor
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Hospice care is for people who can no longer benefit from regular medical treatment and are likely in their final months of life. The goal of hospice is to keep pain and suffering to a minimum, not to cure the underlying illness. For both you and the person in your care, this requires a shift in mindset from searching for a treatment that will restore health to accepting that comfort, dignity, pain relief, and privacy are prime concerns toward the end of life.

How hospice care works

Like most people, you may think of hospice as care received at home -- which is often the case. But someone can also receive this end-of-life care in a hospital, nursing home, or private hospice facility. Which is best depends on a patient's physical condition, whether the home is suited to providing hospice care, and the resources available in your community.

Hospice care isn't necessarily continuous, and a patient may switch into and out of it as a medical condition improves or deteriorates. For example, if a patient is in hospice care and goes into remission -- a period of relief from the symptoms of an illness -- the hospice care can be stopped, only to be resumed again if the symptoms reoccur or the condition gets worse.

The entree to hospice care usually comes from a diagnosis and realization: To qualify for most hospice care, a doctor must diagnose a patient with a terminal illness -- that is, a medical condition that may cause death within six months or less.

Getting hospice help

You may find that you need to use some steely persistence to get the mechanics of hospice care initiated, both in dealing with attending physicians and in finding a hospice organization willing and available to provide the needed care.

For one thing, hospice workers can't step in until they have a written referral from a physician. In addition, you'll have to locate hospice providers and make sure they're willing and able to help. In spite of the role hospice plays, it can sometimes take some lobbying to gain admittance to a hospice facility. For instance, if the facility thinks a patient might be too much of a handful (has a tendency to run off, for example), you may need to convince the staff that you'll visit and help regularly, if not daily.

The initial hospice meeting

During an initial orientation meeting, hospice workers meet with you, the patient, and interested family members to assess the plan of care. If you'll be providing care at home, the orientation workers will evaluate whether the place needs to be equipped with any special gear, such as an elevating hospital bed, a pad to help prevent bedsores, protective coverings for the floor, or ramps for a wheelchair. They may also investigate details ranging from the neighbors to the nearby barking dogs to the number of steps in the patient's house.