What Does It Mean to Be in Hospice?

Reviewed on 12/30/2020

Hospice focuses on care that is palliative, or provides comfort while the patient is dying. Hospice is indicated when doctors deem further attempts to attack an underlying disease may be futile or intolerably reduce the person's quality of life.
Hospice focuses on care that is palliative, or provides comfort while the patient is dying. Hospice is indicated when doctors deem further attempts to attack an underlying disease may be futile or intolerably reduce the person’s quality of life.

Hospice care is a type of care that focuses on comfort and quality of life for people with terminal illness. Hospice does not try to extend life or to hasten death, but to treat and manage symptoms rather than disease. 

Hospice is usually made available for patients with 6 months or less to live, as determined by their doctors. In hospice, there are no attempts to cure a person’s terminal illness, and instead, treatment is aimed at making a person as comfortable as possible. 

Is Hospice the Same as Palliative Care?

While there are some similarities between palliative care and hospice care, they are not the same. Hospice care may include palliative care. 

Palliative care is a type of specialized medical care for people living with chronic, serious, and sometimes terminal illnesses. Also called supportive care, comfort care, and symptom management, palliative care is a holistic approach that involves providing relief from both physical and psychological symptoms, caring for emotional and social needs, and improving quality of life starting as soon as possible after diagnosis with serious illness. Palliative care may also involve assistance to families and caregivers. 

Differences between hospice care and palliative care include:  

  • Hospice care is provided at the end of life, while palliative care may be given at any stage of a serious illness. 
  • Hospice care does not involve any active treatment or cure for illness, but only management of symptoms and side effects, while palliative care can involve active treatment and attempts to cure disease. 
  • A hospice care team is responsible for most of the patient’s needs, while a palliative care team is separate from, but works with, the patient’s medical care team. 


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What Does Hospice Care Provide?

Hospice care involves certain services for patients and families, including:

  • Palliative care and symptom management 
    • To prevent or treat symptoms and side effects 
    • The goal is to help patients be comfortable and to manage any discomfort, pain, nausea, and other side effects so patients are alert enough to make decisions and enjoy loved ones
  • Home care and inpatient hospice care
    • Most hospice care is centered in the home
    • Sometimes, hospice care is in a hospital, extended-care facility, or an inpatient hospice center
  • Spiritual care
    • Spiritual care is tailored to the patient’s needs
    • It may include religious ceremonies or rituals, or simply helping the patient determine what death means to them or to help them say good-bye to loved ones
  • Family meetings
    • Family members are kept informed about the patients and what to expect about death and the process of dying
    • Meetings can provide support and comfort to loved ones
  • Coordination of care
    • A hospice team coordinates and supervises all care 7 days a week, 24 hours a day 
    • They are there for patients and family members at all times 
  • Respite care
    • For hospice care at home, respite care provides services to allow the patient’s family/caregivers a break
    • Respite care may be given in periods of time up to 5 days to allow caregivers to rest
  • Bereavement care
    • A hospice care team works with surviving loved ones to help them through the grieving process
    • These services may be provided for about a year after the patient’s death

When Should Hospice Care Start?

Hospice care usually starts when an illness reaches a point at which treatment can no longer control or cure it. Hospice care is generally used when a person is expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its usual course. 

Some studies have found that hospice care may not start soon enough in many cases. Many people may feel as if starting hospice care means they are giving up. However, patients can leave hospice care and start or resume active treatment if they choose. The goal of hospice is to increase the quality of life for people suffering from advanced, serious illness.

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Reviewed on 12/30/2020