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Hospice Offers Comfort at Life's End

It’s a subject no one wants to think about. But for each of us, our lives must come to an end.

Advances in medicine may help us live longer and the end can linger. This drains patients and loved ones alike. So more and more people are turning to hospice care.

Hospice is not just for elderly adults or people with cancer. People with progressive and life-limiting diseases may choose hospice. These diseases include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, Parkinson disease, and HIV. Children can also qualify for hospice care. Hospice is designed to provide comfort (palliation) for people with health problems where there is no cure. The focus is on caring and helping control pain and other symptoms caused by disease.

Using hospice care to the end of life treats pain and disease symptoms. It helps make people as comfortable and functional as possible to the end of life. Counseling helps people and families come to terms with the process.

Hospice and health plans

Medicare, Medicaid, and most health plans cover hospice programs. People can enter hospice care when a healthcare provider determines that the patient has a life-threatening illness with six months or less to live.

The person, family, and healthcare provider decide when hospice service should start. The person may choose to stop hospice at any time if they decide to resume treatment toward a cure.

Although a person enters hospice with less than six months to live, hospice services don't automatically end at six months. Some people in hospice care live much longer. Insurance may continue to provide hospice coverage after six months. The person's healthcare provider would again need to put in writing that the person has a life-limiting illness.  

Team approach

Typically, a team of people treats the hospice patient. The team can include:

  • Counselors

  • Family members

  • Healthcare providers

  • Home health or hospice aides

  • Nurses

  • Pastoral care services

  • Social workers

  • Trained volunteers

The goal is to control pain and symptoms. The person is comfortable yet alert enough to make decisions. The team also helps the family through the grieving process.

Some hospices have a facility where people get care in their final days. But most hospice programs bring healthcare providers, nurses, and other staff to people’s homes. Surveys show most Americans prefer it that way.

A hospice can give family caregivers a break through respite care. A trained caregiver will step in to allow family members some time off.

Even with these benefits, many people still have the misunderstanding that you come to hospice at the end of your life.

Instead of waiting until the very last moment to enter hospice, hospice staff advise that families discuss end-of-life issues well in advance, while people can still state their wishes.

Hospice also offers many support services for patients and families. The relationship that develops with the hospice staff allows patients to work through anticipated grieving as well as the planning of end-of-life issues. Patients are grateful to know that their family will not be left behind with no one to help them. Final preparations are made in partnership with the patient. The final days can then be spent on closure, knowing that everything has been done to help the patient.

To learn more

To learn about hospice care in your area, check into these resources:

  • Healthcare providers, nurses, and other healthcare providers

  • Social workers, clergy, and other counselors

  • Friends or neighbors who have dealt with hospice care

  • Internet search engines

  • Your local yellow pages

  • Local or state offices on aging or senior centers

  • National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rajadurai Samnishanth
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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