At the end of life, hospice care provides comfort and support once medical interventions to prolong life or aggressive disease treatment have stopped. This type of care is intended to help patients live out their final months, weeks or days as comfortable as possible, so hospice is focused on the quality of life, not on prolonging life. Compassionate caregivers providing hospice care offer relief for symptoms, such as pain or nausea, but do not curatively treat the incurable disease itself.

Who Needs Hospice Care?

Hospice is intended for individuals who have a terminal illness and have chosen not to pursue curative treatment for that illness any longer. Patients who enter hospice may have been battling a disease such as cancer or congestive heart failure for a while, or they might have recently had a major stroke or other acute event. For some patients, the decision to enter hospice care comes when medical conditions have taken a toll on the body over a long period of time. Essentially, anyone who is deemed by a doctor to have about six months or less of life may be a candidate for hospice care if the disease takes its normal course.

It’s important to consider hospice care before it becomes an urgent issue. Discussing a likely timeline for hospice with your doctor helps family members prepare for this type of care in advance. Making the decision to go into hospice isn’t irreversible, either. Patients who have decided to stop treatments and enter hospice may choose later to start treatments again and leave hospice care. The decision to go into hospice care can be incredibly personal, so there is no specific timeframe that is right for every patient. Understanding what hospice care is and why it might be helpful can make the decision easier.

What Hospice Care Involves

Because hospice care focuses on the whole patient during the end of life, it typically is provided by a team of professionals with complementary skills. A hospice team might consist of doctors, nurses, counselors, clergy, and social workers who all coordinate care to give the dying patient the best possible quality of life. For some patients in hospice, volunteers and religious clergy for spiritual support might also be part of the care team.Family involvement is often a big part of hospice care. Hospice aides and homemakers can take some of the caregiving burden off family members so loved ones can spend more time with the terminally ill patient, instead of having to focus on chores and errands. Grief counselors for family members can also be a part of hospice care. Hospice care might also include getting medication to reduce side effects of the underlying disease and improve the patient’s quality of life or medical equipment to enhance or enable independent self-care.

Where Hospice Care Takes Place

Hospice isn’t a specific place, so going into hospice care doesn’t necessarily mean checking into a specific facility. In-home hospice care is common. Hospice care may involve occasional visits by nursing and other hospice team members to provide care in the patient’s home. It may also be provided in an assisted living community or nursing home setting. Because hospice is a form of patient-centered care, the terminally ill patient’s desire to remain in a familiar setting and ability for self-care are factors used to determine where care takes place.