Hospice Care: When Is it Time?

Despite all the medical advances of the last century, there comes a time when even the most cutting-edge care may not be enough to prolong a life. At this time, hospice care should be considered. But what exactly is hospice care and how does it differ from hospital care? And how do you make the decision to place your loved one into hospice?

Broadly speaking, hospice care refers to specialized care for terminally ill patients. The hospice philosophy is that the end of life need not be uncomfortable or undignified. The treatment focus is on quality of life rather than quantity; no attempt is made to prolong life or hasten death. The patient's family is involved in all aspects of decision making and is cared for as well. The entire experience is meant to be humane, compassionate, and as low-stress as possible.

Most people in this country receive hospice care in their own homes. A home health agency may provide the patient with nurses and other staff members who visit regularly and offer support, but many ill people are cared for primarily by loved ones. If this is too much of a strain on a family, there are many independent and hospital-based hospice facilities that provide the patient with round-the-clock care.

One of the main goals of hospice care is to give the patient pain and symptom control while having him or her remain alert. This might be typical of any hospital stay, but hospice care differs from routine medical care in that attention is paid to the particular needs and emotions associated with the end of life.

You may find spiritual or religious support from hospice staff. Bereavement counseling is offered to loved ones to help them prepare for the loss and survive after it occurs. A hospice nurse or social worker will schedule regular family conferences so loved ones can stay informed about the patient's condition and any changes that need to be made. This is a time when loved ones are encouraged to share and express feelings and offer each other support.

So when is a good time to consider hospice care? Ideally, people should learn about hospice care before a patient's medical condition has deteriorated too much. While some people are placed into hospice care with only days or weeks to live, it's certainly possible to spend up to six months in hospice care.

Generally, you should make the decision about hospice care if your loved one is weakening and unable to perform certain physical functions, is in need of increasing medical care or is being hospitalized regularly, and is losing weight steadily. All of these may be signs that his or her condition is worsening and that further treatment may be futile. Talk to the patient's doctor or hospital staff to learn about hospice services available in your area.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Hospice of Santa Cruz County