When a senior is dealing with a terminal or life-limiting illness, the type of care and treatment they receive can make a huge difference in their quality of life during that time. That’s where end-of-life hospice care comes in. With a focus on caring, rather than curing, hospice can turn a difficult experience into a deeply rewarding time where a loved one gets to live their remaining days fully, completely and with dignity.
A Compassionate Alternative
Although hospice care may include medical treatment, it does not try to delay the dying process; nor does it try to hasten death. The hospice philosophy simply recognizes that dying is a natural part of life.
It’s a type of care that treats the whole person. Along with managing pain and other physical symptoms, patients receive emotional, spiritual and social support from a team of specially trained professionals and volunteers. On top of this, care is not limited to the patient — family members receive information, resources and emotional support as well.
Although there are some freestanding hospice centers, hospice care is not tied to any one specific location. In fact, most hospice care is provided at home. It can also be provided in skilled nursing centers, independent or assisted living communities or hospitals.
Generally, doctors refer patients to hospice care if they are expected to die within six months and do not want to undergo aggressive treatments. Care can always be extended if the patient’s condition remains life-limiting. Historically, hospice care has been provided most often to cancer patients, however patients with any illness, such as heart disease, dementia, COPD or HIV/AIDS, can use hospice care.
Developing a Care Plan
Once your loved one is referred for hospice care, the hospice doctor, nurses, social workers and other members of the professional team will work with you and the attending physician to develop a plan that includes treatment, support, personal care and specialized services.
The following hospice services are typically offered:
- Symptom relief and pain management
- Medications, supplies and equipment identified in the plan of care
- Personal care services such as dressing and bathing
- Physical, occupational and speech therapy
- Nursing and home health aide visits to provide direct care
- Coaching the family on how to care for the patient
- Emotional and spiritual support for the patient and family
- Grief counselling for the family after the patient has died
- Volunteer companionship services
Members of the hospice staff will make regular visits to assess the patient and provide additional care. Hospice staff are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can answer your questions and provide support anytime of the day or night including when there is a medical emergency.
Levels of Care
The following four levels of hospice care are paid by Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance plans:
Routine Home Care — The patient continues to live at home with the family handling the bulk of the patient’s needs with some support from the hospice team, who will provide information and resources and conduct home visits.
General Inpatient — If pain or other symptoms cannot be managed at home, the patient might be taken to a hospital or other care center temporarily. When the symptoms are under control, the patient can return home.
Continuous Home Care — If a patient has a medical crisis that needs close medical attention, the hospice care team can provide round-the-clock care in the home. When the crisis resolves, the patient can return to routine care in the home.
Respite Care — When caregivers need a break from caregiving, the patient can receive either inpatient care or continuous home care for up to five days and nights at a time.