DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I have a loved one who was referred for hospice care. I’m not sure what this means. Can you share more about what hospice care is and how it may help my family member?
ANSWER: Hospice care might be an option for people who are nearing the end of life due to a terminal illness and have exhausted all other treatment options.
Unlike other medical care, the focus of hospice care is not to cure the underlying disease. The goal is to support the highest quality of life possible for whatever time remains. Enrolling in hospice care early can help your loved one live better.
Hospice care is provided by a team of health care professionals who aim to maximize comfort for a person by reducing pain and addressing physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. To help families, hospice care also provides counseling, respite care and other support, including bereavement services.
Hospice services are typically for a person who is expected to have six months or less to live.
Many people who receive hospice care have cancer, but hospice care is available for patients with other serious or advanced medical conditions, such as heart disease, dementia, kidney failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Hospice care decreases the burden on family, decreases the family's likelihood of having a complicated grief and prepares family members for their loved one's death.
Additionally, since many family members often serve as the primary caregiver for their loved one, hospice care can offer a break to caregivers by allowing a patient to be cared for at a facility for a period of time. This is known as respite care.
While many people opt to receive hospice care at home, it also can be available at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and dedicated hospice facilities. Typically, hospice staff will make regular visits to your home or other setting. Hospice staff are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A hospice care team typically includes:
Depending upon where you live, there may be several hospice programs available. Speak with your care team, including doctors, nurses and social workers, about their experiences with different hospice programs. Also, ask friends and your local or state office on aging.
Consider the following questions when evaluating a hospice program:
Remember, hospice stresses care over cure. The goal is to provide comfort during the final months and days of life. — Dr. Maisha Robinson, Neurology, and Dr. Molly Kilpatrick, Palliative Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida