Every November we recognize the benefits of Hospice, a unique care that focuses on the mind, body and spirit to improve the quality of life. November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, it’s time to debunk some of the most common myths about hospice care.
Hospice is actually about hope: hope for days lived more fully, hope for comfort, hope for peace, and hope for dignity. It’s about supporting those facing advanced illness by helping them to continue living as fully as possible in the time that remains. Hospice supports both the patient and the family so they can shift their focus from disease back to living life more fully.
Patients and families tell us all of the time that they wish that they had started hospice sooner. But hospice remains misunderstood. Myths about hospice and how it works can make those who need the resources and support hospice brings delay getting care. So, we hope by debunking some of the most common myths, we can help provide some understanding of what hospice really is – a kind and compassionate philosophy of care designed to relieve suffering and to support and celebrate each individual life.
MYTH #1 – Hospice is only for the patient.
Fact: While service to the patient is a large part of what hospice provides, it is so much more. Hospice provides a wealth of support for those family heroes we call caregivers. Hospice supports patients, families and the caregivers by empowering them with knowledge, physical and psychological support. While the role of a caregiver is often selfless, it can be stressful and overwhelming. Respite care enables family caregivers to take a much-needed break from caregiving while they know their loved one is safe. The extra layer of care hospice brings can help families avoid becoming overwhelmed and keep caregiving meaningful and manageable. We help the family caregiver feel empowered and supported and help the entire family through spiritual, emotional and grief support.
MYTH #2 – Hospice is just for cancer.
Fact: Hospice is available to anyone coping with a life limiting disease, illness or condition. Hospice is available for serious illnesses like COPD, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, ALS, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and others. Cancer diagnoses represent less than half of hospice patients.
MYTH #3 – Patients lose their own doctors when they go on hospice.
Fact: We work with your physician to create a plan of care uniquely tailored to your needs, one that your physician agrees is right for you. Your physician remains an active part of your care.
MYTH #4 – Hospice is a place, a place where people go to die – to give up hope.
Fact: This is not true. Hospice is not a place. Hospice care can be provided at home, a nursing home or in an assisted living facility. It is a special kind of healthcare focused on keeping the patient comfortable once the patient and physician have decided that the underlying disease can no longer be treated or cured. It neither hastens nor postpones death and is focused on the belief that quality of life is as important as length of life. Hospice is an ideal, a philosophy, a mission carried out by many capable, dedicated hands. It is hope. Hope that each life can end in the arms of compassion, dignity and peace.
MYTH #5 – Hospice is expensive.
Fact: Medicare and other private insurances cover the cost of hospice care for eligible patients, it is part of your Medicare Benefit.
MYTH #6 – Hospice is only for the last few days of life.
Fact: Hospice works best when it’s started early allowing patients to get their full Hospice Benefit. It enhances the quality of life by controlling symptoms and helping patients live more like they did before they were sick. Hospice should be considered when your physician determines that trying to cure the disease will not be beneficial or when you or your loved one tire of aggressive treatments and choose to focus on quality of life instead.
MYTH #67 – Once you accept hospice, it’s forever.
Fact: You can end services at any time, the choice to continue receiving hospice care is always yours. If a new treatment becomes available and you decide to pursue it, you can leave hospice and do so. It is not unusual to improve under hospice care and ‘graduate’ from hospice.
MYTH #8 – Patients get kicked off of hospice care if they live longer than 6 months.
Fact: You can still get hospice care if you live longer than 6 months so long as the hospice medical director or other hospice doctor recertifies that your illness is still life-limiting. You can get hospice care for two 90-day benefit periods, followed by an unlimited number of 60-day benefit periods.
MYTH #9 – Only physicians can refer someone to hospice.
Fact: While it’s true that your physician must make the referral to hospice, anyone can ask for hospice. In fact, many physicians welcome an indication from their patients that they are ready to have a conversation about hospice. We can also help initiate a conversation with your physician. Too often people feel that they have to wait for their physician to bring up hospice, when in reality, this can delay getting the care that can bring the extra support they need.
MYTH #10 – Hospice takes away all of your medications.
Fact: Depending on the situation, it may be best to stop taking some medications if they are a source of discomfort. But this is only on a case by case basis. For example, if someone has cancer and has decided to receive palliative care, they usually stop treatments like chemotherapy and move towards ones that improve comfort. The real goal is to make sure you are on the right medications that bring the most benefit for your condition as it is now. Sometimes this means actually adding medications rather than removing them.
We hope we’ve helped you better understand this unique type of care and the profound benefits it brings to those coping with serious illness. Remember, it’s always your right to choose hospice care. But if you have more questions a call to our friendly staff can help you understand and consider the available options. Our care planning team is here to help you decide if hospice is right for you or your loved one.
We’re thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to help improve the quality of life for so many families facing serious illness in our community over the last 35 years. We’re here to help you and your family as well.