Frequently Asked Questions About Hospice
What is hospice care?
Hospice care is for people who are nearing the end of their life. The services are provided by a team of health care professionals who maximize comfort by reducing pain and providing support for physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. To help families, hospice care also provides counseling, respite care, and practical support. The focus of hospice isn’t to cure the underlying disease. The goal is to provide the highest quality of life possible for whatever time remains.
How do we know when it is time for hospice care?
There is no guidebook on when, or how, to stop treatment of a terminal illness. However, consulting your doctor is a good place to start. You and your close family members can ask if s/he projects that you have six months or less to live. In that case, you will be eligible for the Medicare Hospice benefit. That doesn’t mean you must choose hospice care, it is simply an option. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves what we want at the end of life.
How do we start the conversation about hospice with our loved one?
It isn’t easy! Most families avoid uncomfortable subjects, especially end-of-life discussions. Both adult children and their aging parents will have an easier time when a terminal illness is diagnosed if they have had an honest conversation before there is a medical crisis. Filling out an advance medical directive can guide you and your loved ones in deciding what kind of medical treatment you want, or don’t want. You can find them at nia.nih.gov and fivewishes.org.
Isn’t choosing hospice just giving up?
A common misperception about hospice care is that a terminally ill patient is left alone to die. That is not true. Hospice care includes physician and nursing care, medical equipment and supplies, prescription drugs for symptom control or pain relief, physical therapy, hospice aides, and much more. Most hospice care is provided at home – with a family member typically serving as the primary caregiver. If symptoms can’t be managed by the hospice team at home, care can be provided in a hospital, nursing home, or dedicated hospice facilities.
How will your book help?
I wrote the book for families who are facing a terrible choice. My dad’s passing was peaceful, on his own terms. But first, and most difficult, was accepting that he was dying and releasing him from the hospital’s culture of cure at all costs. It wasn’t easy but we did it. Choosing hospice care requires tenacity and a strong spine. If you think you don’t have that kind of fortitude, don’t worry, you’ll find it along the way. I cherish the memories of caring for Dad, of giving him a martini before dinner and a big bowl of ice cream after, of sitting around his hospital bed in the evening recalling childhood memories, and cracking our Vallee-style jokes. I cherish them all.