Hospice is End-of-Life Care with Comfort and Dignity

For senior caregivers, the word “hospice” is a double-edged sword. Hospice is end-of-life care, so the inevitable is on the horizon. The care recipient is terminal and the focus of care shifts from extending the quantity of life to preserving the quality of life left.

November is National Hospice Month and a great opportunity to thank those who make the care recipient’s final months, weeks, and days comfortable and as pain-free as possible. As hospice care turns 40 this year, Caregiverlist invites you to learn more about this special breed of caregiving.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) defines hospice care as a specialized kind of care for those facing an end-of-life illness, their families and their caregivers that:

  • addresses the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual need of patients
  • provides care in the patient’s home or in a home-like setting
  • concentrates on making patients free of pain and as comfortable as they can be so they and their families can make the most of the time that remains
  • includes family members an essential part caring for the patient
  • stresses quality of life over length of time left

Hospice centers on caring, not curing. That care is delivered holistically by an interdisciplinary team that consists of physicians, nurses, in-home caregivers, therapists, counselors, and social workers. Their combined goal is to provide compassionate and comprehensive care that includes patient pain management and family support so the care recipient can die pain-free and with dignity.

The number of patients and families utilizing hospice has steadily increased over the last few years. In 2013, an estimated 1.5 to 1.6 million patients received hospice services. The median length of hospice service in 2013 was 18.5 days.

Who pays?
The Medicare hospice benefit, established 1982 by the U.S. Congress, is the predominate source of payment for hospice care. As of today, 42 states also offer Medicaid coverage for hospice. Private insurance and VA benefits cover this end-of-life care as well.

Few caregivers, especially family caregivers, are prepared to handle the events and changes that happen at the end of life. To that end, the Hospice Foundation of America has published a guide called The Caregiver’s Guide to the Dying Process. The booklet is designed to help the caregiver

  • address the needs of the dying by providing descriptions of the physical, emotional and spiritual changes occurring near the end of life
  • help to understand and recognize what is happening physically and emotionally to the terminally ill care recipient
  • suggestions for what you, as the caregiver, can do to ease distress and make
  • the dying person as comfortable as possible
  • information to help you, as the caregiver, communicate effectively with the hospice team
  • insight on how you might feel as the caregiver for someone who is dying ideas of how to care for yourself

My personal experience with hospice occurred with my good friend (and senior) Louie. Louie knew he was dying. At the time, he was in the hospital and asked to go home, where he could spend his last days surrounded by his family in the home he’d shared with his late wife and look upon the garden he’d tended for the last 45 years. Hospice brought a hospital bed into the greatroom, where he could look out onto the backyard and his garden. They eased his pain with generous doses of morphine so he showed no signs of physical duress as family and friends came to hold his hand and say goodbye. All the while, members of the hospice team were in and out, making sure everyone involved had all they needed to make Louie’s passage as warm and peaceful as possible. They made it possible for Louie to die at home, as he wished, listening to his favorite big-band music as they attended to his comfort. It was a beautiful and natural way to die and I will forever be grateful to them all for their inestimable services.

Join the NHPCO hospice community on Facebook and help ensure all Americans get access to quality end-of-life care.

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