Common misconceptions about hospice

Many families caring for a seriously ill loved one struggle alone unnecessarily. They miss out on vital support services because they don’t understand what hospice can provide. Home visits by a nurse to manage pain and other difficult symptoms. Home visits by a nursing assistant to bathe your loved one and shampoo hair. Free prescriptions as needed for keeping your relative comfortable and out of pain. A volunteer to come give family members a break now and then. Access to a social worker to talk about emotional worries or concerns.

Would these services be helpful?

Perhaps it’s time to consider hospice.

Here are some common misconceptions.

  • Hospice is for someone in the last few days of life. Hospice is for the last six months of life, with more time available if it is needed. Ask the doctor if he or she would be surprised if your loved one were to die in the next year. If the doctor says no, then it’s time to consider hospice. (No one can predict for sure one way or the other.)
  • Hospice means you are giving up. Hospice focuses on patient comfort and quality of life. Although a “cure” is no longer the goal, research shows that people getting “comfort care” often live longer than they would without it!
  • The doctor will call for hospice when it’s time. Doctors don’t like to “scare” patients. And, understandably, they don’t like to give bad news. Unless your relative has asked his or her doctor for candid feedback, the doctor may avoid bringing up hospice until death is very near.
  • Hospice means you can no longer see your doctor. Your relative’s existing doctor is still involved, collaborating with hospice in a team approach to care.
  • Hospice is a place someone goes. Some hospices have facilities where patients can move in. But the mainstay of hospice is service in the patient’s own home. Medical professionals make “home visits” to the patient, wherever the patient lives.
  • Hospice is only for people with cancer. Hospice is for people with any type of disease, as long as the condition is incurable and in the advanced stage. This includes people in late stages of chronic diseases such as dementia, heart disease, and COPD.

If your loved one has Medicare, 100% of hospice services are covered provided he or she meets the eligibility requirements.