How do you know it’s the right time for hospice care? If you’re currently receiving treatments that are intended to cure your illness, you don’t need to be concerned with hospice care. But there may come a time when the treatments stop working and continuing the treatments may even become harmful to your health, despite the possibility of adding another few weeks or months to your life, because you may feel too ill to enjoy the time you have left.
When full recovery is not a possibility anymore, having quality of life for the remaining time you have left becomes your focus, and spending as much time as possible with your loved ones in anticipation of a dignified, pain-free death.
There really isn’t one specific point during your illness when you should ask about hospice care. Typically, when treatments are no longer working and the options have been exhausted, your physician may suggest that it may be time to look into hospice, but you don’t have to wait until then. To be eligible for hospice, your doctor does need to certify that you likely have six months (in some cases a year) or less to live if your illness follows its normal course, but asking about and exploring hospice options still very much depends on you as an individual.
According to HelpGuide, a nonprofit mental health and wellness resource, the following are signs that you may want to explore options with hospice care:
- You’ve made multiple trips to the emergency room, your condition has been stabilized, but your illness continues to progress significantly, affecting your quality of life;
- You’ve been admitted to the hospital several times within the last year with the same or worsening symptoms;
- You wish to remain at home, rather than spend more time in the hospital; and/or
- You have decided to stop receiving curative treatment for your disease.
There are three stages of hospice care: the last phases of an illness, the dying process, and the bereavement period. Depending on your circumstances and stage of care, a hospice team may provide any combination of the following services:
Registered nurses monitor your symptoms and medication, and help educate both you and your family about what’s happening. The nurse is also the link between you, your family, and your physician.
A social worker counsels and advises you and your family, and acts as your community advocate, making sure you have access to the resources you need.
Your doctor approves the plan of care and works with the hospice team. A hospice medical director may also be available to assist the attending physician, patient, and hospice care team as a consultant and resource.
Spiritual Support and Counseling
Clergy and other spiritual counselors are available to visit you and provide spiritual support at home. Spiritual care is a personal process and may include helping you explore what death means to you, resolving “unfinished business,” saying goodbye to loved ones, and performing a specific religious ceremony or ritual.
Home Health Aides and Homemaker Services
Home health aides provide personal care such as bathing, shaving, and nail care. Homemakers may be available for light housekeeping and meal preparation.
Trained Volunteer Support
Hospice volunteers have long been the backbone of hospice. They’re available to listen, offer you and your family compassionate support, and assist with everyday tasks such as shopping, babysitting, and carpooling.
Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapies
These hospice specialists can help you develop new ways to perform tasks that may have become difficult due to illness, such as walking, dressing, or feeding yourself.
Respite care gives your family a break from the intensity of caregiving. A brief inpatient stay in a hospice facility, for example, can provide a “breather” for both you and your family caregivers.
Even if you are being cared for at home, there may be times when you’ll need to be admitted to a hospital, extended-care facility, or a hospice inpatient facility. Sometimes medical intervention may be recommended to ease the dying process, requiring round-the-clock nursing care at a facility. Your hospice team will arrange for any such inpatient care, and remain involved in your treatment and with your family.
Bereavement is the time of mourning we all experience following the loss of a loved one. The hospice care team will work with your surviving family members to help them through the grieving process. Support may include a counselor or trained volunteer visiting your family at specific periods during the first year, as well as phone calls, letters, and support group recommendations. The hospice team will also refer your loved ones to medical or other professional care if necessary.
Often, people end up choosing hospice care when they only have a few days of life left. When you’re told that your illness is terminal, it’s a good idea to look into hospice options sooner rather than later. It’s also important to make sure your loved ones know and understand your wishes for quality end-of-life care. Making the most of the time you have remaining is a gift to yourself and your loved ones during this time of care and compassion.