What is Hospice Care?

Hospice Care: Comforting the terminally ill

Hospice is specialized care that focuses on the quality of life for people who are experiencing an advanced terminal illness, and also offers support to family members. Teams of professionals and volunteers provide medical care that emphasizes pain control and symptom management to treat the person and their symptoms, not the disease itself. They also address the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of the patient and the whole family. The goal is to help people in the last phases of an incurable disease or unmanageable medical condition live with dignity, surrounded by loved ones, as comfortably and fully as possible.

According to a 2018 survey from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), the average length of service for Medicare patients enrolled in hospice care is 76.1 days, but more than half were enrolled for 30 or fewer days.


Hospice Care Team

A family member is typically the primary caregiver and helps make decisions on behalf of their loved one. An interdisciplinary team usually consists of:

  • Patient’s personal physician
  • Medical director or hospice physician
  • Nurses
  • Hospice aides
  • Social workers
  • Clergy or other spiritual counselors
  • Bereavement counselors
  • Trained hospice volunteers
  • Speech, physical and occupational therapists, if needed

If the patient lives alone or the family can’t provide care, many hospices coordinate resources from the community to make in-home care possible. They may also be able to provide an alternative location for the patient to receive care.


Hospice Services

Hospice care is family-centered, so loved ones are included in the decision-making process as well as the care itself. Typical hospice services include:

  • Managing the patient’s pain and other symptoms
  • Providing medications and medical equipment
  • Assisting the patient and family members with the emotional, psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying
  • Instructing the family on how to care for the patient
  • Providing grief support and counseling
  • Making short-term inpatient care available when pain or symptoms become too difficult to manage at home, or the caregiver needs respite time
  • Delivering special services like speech and physical therapy when needed
  • Providing grief support and counseling to surviving family and friends

The NHPCO says that patients may require differing intensities of care during the course of their decline. “While hospice patients may be admitted at any level of care, changes in their status may require a change in their level of care. The Medicare Hospice Benefit affords patients four levels of care to meet their clinical needs: Routine Home Care, General Inpatient Care, Continuous Home Care, and Inpatient Respite Care.”


Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care

While hospice may include palliative care, they’re not the same thing. Palliative care is sometimes called supportive care, symptom management or comfort care. It’s specialized medical care designed to relieve pain, stress and other symptoms during any stage of a debilitating illness, whether or not the illness is terminal.

Hospice care is provided when the illness is no longer curable, or the patient is near the end of life, and no active treatment is being given. Palliative care can be given during active treatment.


When Should Hospice Care Start?

The Hospice Foundation of America says the decision should be made as a family and with the recommendation of a physician. In general, it’s time for hospice when:

  • The patient has 6 months or less to live, according to a physician.
  • The patient is rapidly declining despite medical treatment (weight loss, mental status decline, inability to perform activities of daily living).
  • The patient is ready to live more comfortably and forego treatments aimed at prolonging life.

About 70% of hospice services are provided in the setting that the patient calls home. This may be their private residence or that of a loved one, a hospital, a senior living community, or nursing home. Some hospices provide care in their own long-term residential center.


Hospice in Senior Living Communities

Many senior living communities provide hospice services to their residents. This helps ensure residents receive the care they need in a familiar place, often from people with whom they already have a relationship.

At Lake Port Square, we know the importance of providing hospice care for seniors and their families. Our senior living community works with a network of preferred providers to make it possible for residents with end-of-life needs to receive high-quality, consistent hospice care while residing in our community. Learn more about our hospice care here.