Families of a loved one who is seriously ill often wonder, “When is a person ready for hospice?” Making the decision to end treatment and pursue hospice is very difficult. Many of us assume we’ll always have a little more time with our loved ones. Even when our loved ones are in the late stages of serious illness, and medical treatments may offer hope for longer life. But medicine can only take us so far.
This is a decision many families put off, due to confusion about what hospice actually is. The right time for hospice care isn’t an exact science, but understanding the signs and symptoms to look for can help the family make a more informed decision.
What is Hospice?
Hospice strives to provide the highest quality of care and comfort to those in their last stage of life. When life seems unsteady and chaotic during these events, hospice exists to provide support, care, and counseling for families in need. The primary focus of hospice is caring, not curing. It is understood that at this stage of a patient’s life, their quality of life should be improved as much as possible. Hospice providers do everything they can to give patients a sense of dignity and respect. A diverse medical team works together to manage pain, increase comfort, and support every aspect of a patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Signs It May Be Time for Hospice
When a terminally ill patient starts to decline in health and is no longer responding to curative treatments, then is it time to consider hospice services. Here are a few physical signs of the end of life.
- Rapid decline in health despite medical treatment
- Almost always in pain
- Frequent trips to the hospital or emergency room
- Decrease in food / fluid intake
- Loss of urinary or bowel control
- Dealing with infections
- Inability to perform daily tasks without assistance
What is The Goal of Hospice?
Hospice care focuses on the patient instead of the disease. Instead of treatments that were meant to cure, hospice treats the symptoms of the illness, such as pain, nausea, or shortness of breath. Families and their loved ones may choose hospice when it is determined that the person’s illness is no longer curable and has been considered terminal. Hospice care is an invaluable service that focuses on quality of life over quantity of life.
Hospice may also provide social workers and spiritual counselors to help the loved one come to terms with his or her prognosis and, in some cases, mend relationships between loved ones and their family.
Hospice care can lead to reliable home care treatment instead of living in a hospital. Most hospice care takes place in the home with a family member serving as the primary caregiver and the hospice employees visiting on a regular basis. But hospice is also available at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, and hospice facilities.
Who Pays for Hospice?
Hospice care costs are covered by the Medicare hospice benefit, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans. A patient must qualify for hospice and use a Medicare-certified hospice program to receive all or most state or federal hospice benefits.
Medicare pays 100% of charges from Medicare-certified hospice agencies and pays most of the other hospice-related charges that may arise. Medicare Advantage does not technically pay for hospice, but people with Medicare Advantage plans automatically have Medicare Part A & B coverage for hospice, so 100% of their costs are covered as well. Like any health insurance plan, Medicaid also covers hospice. Health insurance plans vary in the amount of coverage. Similarly, Medicaid is a partnership between states and the federal government.
Hospice cares for people who are dying, but hospice is not about death. It is about life. It’s about living life to the fullest until the last moment.