Posted: May 6, 2024

When is the Best Time to Seek Hospice Care?

Hospice care has evolved enormously over the last decade, as it has been closely linked to impending death. Hospice care is a medical subspecialty with a strong evidence base that provides a compassionate option for people with life-limiting illnesses. When a disease cannot be cured, hospice care becomes a vital choice. Transitioning from curative treatments to end-of-life care can be a difficult and emotional process for patients and their loved ones. The primary goal of the hospice team is to create a comfortable and supportive environment for individuals in the final stages of their lives. Hospice care is specifically designed and intended for people who have an incurable illness and are nearing the end of their lives. The emphasis is on ensuring their comfort and allowing them to fully enjoy their final years of life with peace and dignity.

Hospice care professionals do not aim to cure diseases but rather to alleviate symptoms and enhance the quality of life for patients. They also involve family members and caregivers in the decision-making process that impacts the patient’s care. Hospice is frequently mistaken as a physical location when it is a service that can be delivered wherever the patient resides. Hospice care is flexible and can be provided in different environments, such as the patient’s personal residence, a senior living community, or a nursing home. One common misconception about hospice care is that it only treats people who have terminal cancer. While hospice can be beneficial to patients with terminal cancer who have ceased or chosen to discontinue treatment, it can also benefit those in the advanced stages of kidney, lung, and heart disease, as well as people with progressive neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

So, when is the appropriate time for hospice care? Hospice care begins when the illness has an advanced stage that is no longer curable or controllable. The hospice doctor and the patient’s primary care physician must both certify that the patient meets the criteria for hospice care. If a person has less than six months to live, begins to experience a decline in quality of life despite treatment, or decides to stop life-prolonging treatments, hospice care may be appropriate. However, if a doctor re-certifies them, a person may continue to receive hospice care, even if they live longer than six months.

Hospice care consists of several components, including symptom control and management, pain management, stress management, mental health support, spiritual support, and family support. It is important to note that symptom management and hospice care focus on alleviating discomfort rather than directly treating the underlying illness, such as using chemotherapy for cancer treatment. Moreover, hospice caregivers play a crucial role in supporting families by keeping them informed about their loved one’s condition and providing guidance on what to expect, including information about the dying process and resources they may need during this phase of the patient’s life. Hospice teams also provide around-the-clock support, including direct care and coordination with other medical professionals. They may also facilitate communication with clergy and offer bereavement support to grieving loved ones.

When hospice support becomes a topic of conversation in your life or the life of a loved one, reflect on the goals of care. If one’s care objectives align with the principles of hospice and they meet the necessary medical criteria, do not hesitate to speak with a hospice professional. Receiving the appropriate care has a significant impact on the quality of one’s transition.

This article was written by Issa Vazquez at Comfort & Peace Hospice