by Eve Glicksman
Valley News Live
January 9, 2013
Death is not a comfortable subject for most of us. So, it’s no surprise that many people lack basic knowledge about hospice care. When surveyed, a majority say they would prefer to die in their own home … but three out of four Americans don’t realize that hospice care offers that option.
Lack of information, fears and misunderstandings keep many people from reaping the advantages of specialized end-of-life care. Here are the facts about seven common misconceptions:
- Hospice is not a place. Hospice is an approach to caring for someone nearing the end of life. While hospice care can be provided in a freestanding facility, hospital or nursing home, it’s most often offered in the person’s home. Many people opt for hospice precisely because they can stay at home with loved ones and pets while receiving care. Essentially, the hospice team comes to you. You’re visited by doctors, nurses, counselors, therapists, social workers, home health aides or clergy as appropriate. Round-the-clock phone support is available to caregivers.
- Entering hospice does not mean that medical care stops. Hospice care ismedical treatment. In fact, hospice and palliative (pain relief) care is a board-certified medical specialty. The main difference in hospice is that treatment is not intended to cure. Rather, medication or therapies are only prescribed to manage pain or relieve symptoms. The treatment plan is reviewed regularly and revised as needed.
- Hospice is open to people of any age or condition. Many wrongly believe that hospice is only for cancer patients or the elderly. People with diseases from Alzheimer’s to AIDS can receive hospice care, as can children. The main criterion for hospice is that a doctor must determine that the person is not expected to live for more than six months.
- Most or all of hospice costs are usually covered by Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs or private insurers. This is a big surprise to many. But several studies have shown that hospice care can greatly reduce the cost of treating terminal illness.Plus, hospice usually costs less than care in hospitals and assisted living or nursing homes. Medicare, Medicaid (in some states) and the Department of Veterans Affairs may cover all hospice costs for those eligible. If you have a private insurer or HMO, you’ll have to ask about specific hospice and home care benefits. Many hospices offer “ability to pay” rates, too, or help low-income families to find community resources to cover costs.
- Hospice can even accommodate most people with high-level care needs or who live alone. Today’s technology enables most people to receive care at home. The hospice team can arrange home delivery of a hospital bed, oxygen tank, remote monitoring tools or other needed equipment. At-home caregivers are taught how to administer medications and use equipment. If there is no capable live-in caregiver at home, the hospice team can help you find a private nurse or a non-home hospice setting.
- Hospice care does not “hurry death.” The purpose of hospice is to relieve suffering and to make the end of life more meaningful. Hospice staff encourages and aids the person in completing any unfinished business – legal, emotional or spiritual – that can help in coming to terms with death. Treatment may also include activities like music therapy or journal writing to reduce stress.
- A referral to hospice should not be seen as a last resort. When a terminal illness is no longer responding to medical treatment, continuing aggressive care can deplete someone even more. Hospice empowers people to choose how to spend their final days and die with dignity and peace of mind. One in three families surveyed in one study said they regretted not getting their loved one into a hospice program sooner.