Is Hospice the Answer? Here’s How to Tell It’s Time.

Hospice, Planning

Hospice services are designed to provide a high quality of life for those who have a short time to live. But often, patients and family caregivers wait too long to seek this specialized help.

Because hospice is meant for the terminally ill, hospice focuses on caring, not curing, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. While hospice care usually takes place in the patient’s home, it can be provided in hospice centers, hospitals and nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.

If you or a loved one is considering hospice care, here are some critical things to know:

Know when to begin

Hospice is designed for those with a terminal illness, who are expected to pass away within six months. While family members or health care workers can refer patients for hospice, Medicare requires verification of diagnosis from a regular physician or a hospice physician. Some individuals live longer than expected. When this occurs, hospice care can continue. If a patient recovers, hospice care will end because it is no longer needed.

Research shows that patients often live longer on hospice, with better quality of life, than patients with similar diagnoses who do not have hospice care, according to Cornerstone VNA, a nonprofit home health care agency that serves communities in New Hampshire and Maine.

“Often families tell us they wish they had been referred to hospice sooner and that they thought hospice was only for the last few weeks or days of care,” according to Cornerstone VNA.

A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found patients and family members who received hospice care had a better end-of-life experience than those who did not receive similar care.

  1. Donald Schumacher, former president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said in a release on the study that hospice caregivers have been advocating for patients and families to consider hospice long before a medical crisis emerges.

“Helping people understand that choosing hospice or palliative care earlier in the course of a serious, life-limiting illness is not ‘giving up’ but in most cases maximizes quality of life,” Schumacher said.

Understand the costs

In most cases, the cost of hospice care is covered as long as the provider is approved by Medicare. You can get hospice care for two 90-day benefit periods, followed by an unlimited number of 60-day benefit periods, according to information from Medicare. Medicaid and private insurance also typically offer hospice coverage.

Maintain control

“During the often-difficult last stages of a serious illness, many people feel that they have lost control over their lives and over what will happen to them,” according to

Good hospice care providers ensure patients feel in control at all times, and keep loved ones informed and involved. Part of maintaining control is knowing what options there are for hospice care, and allowing patients to make decisions about things that are important to them.

Take a team approach

The hospice team should develop a care plan catered to meet a patient’s needs for pain management and symptom control. According to the national hospice organization, the team can include the patient’s personal physician; a hospice physician; nurses; home health aides; social workers; clergy or other counselors; trained volunteers; and speech, physical and occupational therapists, when needed. In addition to the patient, team members usually work closely with a family member designated as a primary caregiver.

Care for the caregiver

Caring for someone who is terminally ill can be physically and mentally draining. Hospice care can provide a respite for those caregivers. Once the patient passes, hospice provides bereavement support and grief counseling to help loved ones cope with the loss.


If you’d like to discuss hospice options, contact the talented and informative staff at Cornerstone VNA.

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