Difficult Decisions: When to Consider Hospice Care

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Being the primary decision maker for someone means weighing out all of their options and choosing the one that you believe will give them the best possible quality of life for as long as possible.  One of these options is hospice care.  

What is hospice care? 

Unlike traditional forms of medicine, the goal of hospice care is not to treat the patient’s illness, but rather to alleviate and manage the patient’s symptoms in an effort to provide them with as much peace and comfort as possible.  Additionally, hospice care seeks to provide emotional and spiritual counseling for both the patient and those surrounding him, before and after death.  

How will I know when my loved one is ready to transition to hospice care? 

Although medical treatments may offer hope for a longer life, it is up to the patient and his family/primary caregiver to decide when a transition to hospice may be the best option.  In some cases, the patient’s physician may bring up hospice care when it is clear that medical treatments aren’t succeeding.  If your loved one begins experiencing the following, it may be time to inquire about hospice care.

  • Frequent trips to the emergency room 
  • Recurrent infection due to a weakened immune system
  • Reduced or inability to eat resulting in significant weight loss
  • Constant pain
  • Uncontrolled difficulty breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Inability to carry out basic tasks, such as using the bathroom, eating, or getting dressed 
  • Decision to stop aggressive medical treatments

How will I know which hospice care is best?

There are many variables to consider when choosing a hospice program.  The first step is consulting with the patient and family members to determine what matters most to everyone.  With an understanding of your needs in mind, you can be frank when speaking to hospice providers.  For a full list of questions to ask when choosing a hospice care provider, click here.  

What if my family member is not ready to stop medical treatment just yet but would still like an extra layer of support? 

Hospice care is for those who have determined that the best course for them is to shift focus to quality of life.  Those who would like to continue curative treatment may opt for a palliative care program which may provide relief for symptoms while working in conjunction with the patient’s medical team. 

Is it too late to place my loved one on hospice care?

Hospice care is meant for those with an estimated 6 months or less to live.  While it is never too late to place someone in a hospice program, the intention of hospice care is to develop a comprehensive plan that targets the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and their family.  This is much harder to accomplish with only a few days or weeks of care.

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