While many people have heard of hospice care, it is typically something that most try not to think about. The service is intended to ease pain and other symptoms associated with terminal illnesses, but there are many myths surrounding hospice.
When Judy Lucas found out that her husband of 40 years had been diagnosed with fatal pancreatic cancer she chose hospice care when chemotherapy and other treatments stopped working.
“You just had that moment where you stood there and cried,” said Judy. The role of hospice for the Lucas’ was providing comfort. Dr. Debra Blue says many people misunderstand what hospice really is. Dr. Blue is the Medical Director of Hospice of Wake County. She says that there are still a good amount of people who think hospice is only for cancer patients. But Dr. Blue says that only 35-percent of her hospice patients have cancer, the rest of the people have a variety of conditions such as heart and kidney problems.
Another myth is that hospice is expensive. A Duke University study conducted in 2007 found that people who die under hospice care cost the Medicare system $2,300 less than people who do not use the services.
People also tend to think that hospice is only for the last few days of life, but according to Dr. Blue, “I think waiting too long is the biggest mistake that I see.” She says that 30-percent of patients do die in the first week, but she believes that starting it sooner can help patients better manage their pain and symptoms for longer.
Despite the myth that hospice means an earlier death for patients, Dr. Blue says, “The average patient on hospice lives roughly 30 days longer.”
Hospice care helped Judy say goodbye to George because his last days were peaceful for the couple.
“If you get the patient comfortable, the family is going to be comfortable,” said Judy.
In the early 1900s at home deaths were overwhelmingly common. Most homes had special rooms to lay out the bodies of the deceased. It was not until death became commercialized by funeral parlors that at-home “death rooms” changed into American “living rooms.”
DYING WITH DIGNITY: THE TRUTH ABOUT HOSPICE CARE
HOSPICE HISTORY: The British physician Dr. Cicely Saunders began the modern hospice movement in the 1960's by establishing St. Christopher's Hospice near London, which was the first program to use modern pain management techniques to care for the dying. In 1974 in New Haven, Connecticut the first hospice in the United States was established and now more than 4,700 hospice programs exist in the United States alone. In 2007 hospice programs cared for almost 1.4 million people in the United States, 965,000 of which were enrolled in Medicare. (Source: www.hospicefoundation.org)
PROCESS: Before care is provided, hospice staff meets with the patient's personal physician and a hospice physician to discuss patient history, current physical symptoms, and life expectancy. They then meet with the patient and their family to discuss the services provided, pain and comfort levels, support systems, financial and insurance resources, medications and equipment needs. The patient must have a doctor's referral to enter into hospice. Medicare covers all services, medications, and equipment related to the illness for patients with a prognosis of 6 months or less. (Source: www.hospicefoundation.org)
BENEFITS OF HOSPICE CARE: The use of hospice care can offer benefits to not only patients but their family members and loved ones as well.
1. For terminally ill patients, the decision to receive hospice or palliative care instead of continued curative treatment can help them avoid the dangers of over-treatment.
2. Hospice can reduce anxiety in the terminally ill patients as well as their family by helping them achieve some level of acceptance.
3. Other than the focus on the physical health and comfort of the patients, hospice also focuses on the emotional needs and spiritual well-being of patients and their families.
4. In-home care from a hospice IDT often means the patient receives greater monitoring than he or she would in a hospital. (Source: www.helpguide.org)
HELP FOR FAMILY MEMBERS: The death of a loved one can be a difficult time and another benefit of hospice care is the support offered to family members after a patient has died. The bereavement support is when the hospice care team works with surviving family members to help them through the grieving process. This can include counselor visits to the family during the first year, support groups, and phone calls or letter contact with the family. (Source: www.nahc.org)
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