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Hospice Care


Topic Overview

"When my doctor told me my cancer couldn't be cured and I probably had 6 months at best, it was hard to believe I'd run out of options. But then I started hospice care, and it's helped me face my fears. And I'm making decisions about how I want to go out and what will happen afterwards. It's given me back at least a little feeling of control."—Avery, 81

"My hospice care nurses have encouraged me to try to make the most of every day. I say 'I love you' a lot more, and I try to be honest about my feelings, to myself and to others. I'm so grateful for my hospice team. They are a blessing."—Barbara, 68

What is hospice care?

Hospice care provides medical services, emotional support, and spiritual resources for people who are in the last stages of a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure. Hospice care also helps family members manage the practical details and emotional challenges of caring for a dying loved one.

The goal is to keep you comfortable and improve your quality of life.

Hospice programs offer services in your own home or in a hospice center. Some hospices also offer services in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or hospitals.

Some people think that starting hospice is a last resort, that it means they're giving up on life. Some think that hospice means a lower level of medical care. But hospice is simply a type of care that focuses on the quality of your life instead of on continuing with treatment to prolong your life.

Why choose hospice care?

During the often difficult last stages of a serious illness, many people feel that they have lost control over their lives and over what will happen to them.

Hospice care can show you your options. And knowing your options gives you back some control. It allows you to make decisions about things that are important to you.

What kind of services are provided?

Hospice services usually include:

  • Basic medical care with a focus on pain and symptom control.
  • Access to a member of your hospice team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Medical supplies and equipment as needed.
  • Counseling and social support to help you and your family with psychological, emotional, and spiritual issues.
  • Guidance with the difficult, but normal, issues of life completion and closure.
  • A break (respite care) for caregivers, family, and others who regularly care for you.
  • Volunteer support, such as preparing meals and running errands.
  • Counseling and support for your loved ones after you die.

Who is involved with hospice?

Most of the time, hospice care is provided in your home. Family members or loved ones may look after you much of the time. The hospice team will work with them to give you the best care possible. Someone from your hospice team will likely visit you for an hour or so once a week or more.

In addition to a doctor and nurses, hospice teams usually include:

Some hospice teams also include:

Some people worry about losing touch with their regular, trusted doctor. But he or she can work with others on your team to stay involved in your care.

Are you eligible for hospice services?

Usually, these two things must be true for you to be eligible for hospice care:

  1. Your condition cannot be cured. This is called a terminal illness.
  2. Your doctor expects that you will live 6 months or less if your illness runs its normal course.

Some people live longer than expected. If you live longer than 6 months, you can continue with hospice care. If your illness gets better, you can stop getting hospice care. You may no longer qualify for it.

Hospice care is generally paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. Care may also be available to those unable to pay.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about hospice:

Getting treatment:

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eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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