Four months ago a good friend of mine learned that his father has stage 4 brain cancer. With medicine, his father is able to function doing some of the day-to-day activities that he has done for years. However, at night when he sleeps through the time of his next dose of pain medicine, he awakens with unbearable pain, lessening his quality of life. He is irritable and uncomfortable until his pain medications take effect. It has been recommended that the family call for information about hospice, but neither he nor his family feel they are ready.
My family called hospice for my mom who was nearing the end of her life after battling lung cancer for two years. I felt sharing my family’s experience might help my friend and his family better understand the services offered by hospice and how it can help give his father a better quality of life. Because this is a decision he and his family need to be comfortable with, I recommended he call a hospice team with his family’s questions and concerns.
Here are some of the most common questions asked of hospice teams:
How is hospice different from other medical care?
- Hospice looks at all needs of the patient and the patient’s family. A coordinated team of hospice professionals, assisted by volunteers, work to tailor a plan designed to meet the patient’s and family’s emotional and spiritual needs, as well as the patient’s physical needs.
- The emphasis is on controlling pain and symptoms through the most advanced techniques available, and also on emotional and spiritual support tailored to the needs of the patient and family.
- Hospice recognizes that a serious illness affects the entire family, not just the person who is ill.
What services does hospice provide?
- Physicians (the patient’s own physicians and hospice physicians, who are specialists in controlling pain and other symptoms of serious illness) prescribe medications and other methods of pain and symptom control.
- Nurses are experts at maintaining patient comfort. They assess the patient frequently and help family members provide the necessary support.
- Certified nurse assistants and home health aides provide personal care, companionship and valuable emotional support, as well as support for the patient and family with activities of daily living.
- Social workers coordinate community resources and assist the patient and family with non-medical concerns. They can help family members mend damaged relationships, plan for the future and ease other emotional difficulties.
- Chaplains and spiritual counselors help patients and families cope with spiritual questions and concerns at the end of life, either directly or by coordinating services with the patient’s and family’s spiritual advisors.
- Bereavement coordinators help patients and families deal with grief. Grief support services continue for at least one year after the death of a hospice patient.
- Volunteers provide companionship and emotional support and offer help in myriad ways.
- Hospice also provides medications, medical equipment and supplies necessary to promote comfort at home or in other hospice settings.
- Hospice staff members are available by phone at all times, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Who pays for hospice care?
- Hospice is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, with few out-of-pocket costs to the patient. The Medicare hospice benefit covers costs related to the terminal illness, including the services of the hospice team, medication, medical equipment and supplies. Medicare reimburses for different levels of hospice care, recognizing sometimes patients require special attention.
When should patients and families consider hospice?
- After diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, patients and their families should consider their choices for care. A patient does not have to be bedbound or critically ill to be admitted to hospice. A hospice representative would be happy to talk with you or your family about hospice options.
Because a family makes the choice to call hospice does not mean they are saying goodbye at that moment. The choice to call means you love and care for your loved one and want them to have dignity and peace at the end. I can speak from experience that calling hospice for my mom was the best decision made at a very difficult time for my family. They helped make her end peaceful for all.