Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is hospice?

A. Hospice care is designed to alleviate pain and control the symptoms of disease with expertise and compassion. In addition to physical care, hospice provides spiritual, social, and emotional support. Individuals today are confronted with difficult choices about health care, particularly at the end of life. For an increasing number of patients and families, hospice is an enlightened development in end-of-life care.

Q. Does hospice only take care of cancer patients?

A. No. Hospice serves those who are at the end-stage (having a life expectancy of six months or less) of any disease. As health care changes and chronic diseases increase, hospice serves a widening range of patients. Other people commonly served by hospice include those with diseases of the heart and lungs, ALS (Lou Gehrig´s disease) and Alzheimer´s.

Q. How does hospice work?

A. Once a patient selects hospice care, a hospice team is selected. The patient, family, and hospice team develop a comprehensive plan that supports the patient´s decision to remain at home or wherever that choose to receive care. Each hospice patient usually has a “primary caregiver.” This caregiver is often the patient’s spouse, partner, or parent, although any family member or friend can fill this role. Members of the hospice team visit the patient and family regularly to provide medical and social services and to support the caregiver.

Q. Who is the hospice “team”?

A. The team assembled when a patient selects hospice care includes doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, counselors, spiritual caregivers, and volunteers. This team helps coordinate medications, supplies, equipment, hospital services, and additional helpers in the home, as appropriate.

Q. When is it time to refer a patient to hospice and who does it?

A. Any time during a life-limiting illness, it is appropriate to discuss all of a patient´s care options, including hospice. By law, the decision belongs to the patient. The hospice team is sensitive to the patient’s concerns and is always available to discuss them with the patient, family, and physicians.

Q. What does the hospice admission process involve?

A. One of the first things hospice will do is contact the patient’s physician to make sure he or she agrees that hospice care is appropriate for the patient at this time. The hospice care goals and available services will be reviewed carefully with the patient and caregivers to make sure they are understood. The patient will be asked to sign consent and insurance forms similar to those signed when entering a hospital.

Q. Does hospice do anything to make death come sooner?

A. Hospice does nothing to hasten or unduly prolong the dying process. Hospice provides a presence and specialized knowledge during this particularly difficult time. Hospice services are designed to bring comfort, to control pain and other symptoms, and to address the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of both the patient and his or her loved ones.

Q. How difficult is it to care for a loved one at home?

A. While it is never easy, some caregivers have said it was an especially rewarding period of their lives, a time when they could express love and caring in a personal and meaningful way. One of the first things hospice will do is work with the patient and caregivers to prepare an individualized care plan. The hospice team visits regularly and is always accessible to answer questions and provide support. While friends and family give most of the care, hospices do have volunteers to assist with errands and to provide an occasional break.

Q. Is the home the only place hospice care can be delivered?

A. No. Although most hospice services are delivered in a private residence, some patients live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or hospice centers.

Q. How does hospice manage pain?

A. Hospice has expertise in managing pain. Hospice staffs are up-to-date on the latest medications and approaches for pain and symptom relief; they also recognize that emotional and spiritual pain is just as real. The hospice team is uniquely skilled at addressing the needs of patients and their caregivers during this difficult period. With hospice care, many patients can be as alert and comfortable as they desire.

Q. Hospice provides bereavement care to the family. What does that mean?

A. Bereavement care refers to the organized program of grief support provided by a hospice to caregivers and families. Based on the needs of the families and caregivers, bereavement care might include individual counseling, support groups, or informational mailings. Family members also can call to request additional support any time during the year following the death of their loved one.

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