How well do you know hospice?

Caregivers often have many misconceptions when faced with end-of life care and making decisions regarding hospice.

Lisa Erbstoesser, R.N., a former hospice nurse, and founder and president of See Me Communications, discusses and dispels six popular hospice care myths.

Hospice Care Explained

  1. The day that I call hospice is the day that I give up on my loved one. Probably the most difficult myth to overcome is the common feeling among family caregivers that calling hospice is akin to giving up, to letting your loved one die. But, Erbstoessser believes that nothing could be further from the truth. "In a lot of cases, calling hospice is the best kind of care you can give them at that time," she says, pointing out that the comfort measures administered by hospice care workers can manage pain and other symptoms very well. Hospice care concentrates on helping a person live well everyday.
  2. Hospice is a place. Hospice is actually just a form of end-of-life care. While formal care facilities, called hospice in-patient units, do exist, hospice care can come to wherever your loved one is living. Erbstoesser says that most people who go on hospice die in the place they consider to be home.
  3. My loved one has to have a specific diagnosis (usually cancer) to go on hospice. Erbstoesser says that this is one of the more commonly-cited misconceptions about hospice care. The reality, statistics show, is that the majority of people who go on hospice suffer from some type of chronic illness other than cancer. There are two primary requirements that your loved one must meet to qualify for hospice: they have to have a life-limiting illness in which they are not expected to live longer than six months (this can include cancer as well as things like congestive heart failure, Alzheimer's, and so on), and they have to be done seeking active treatment for that illness.
  4. Once they go on hospice, my loved one will be forced to stop eating and drinking. Your loved one can continue to eat and drink what they want while they receive hospice care. Erbostoesser points out that the one exception to this occurs when a loved one is very near end-of-life. When death is close, your loved one may have their food and fluid intake limited, because eating of drinking has become too burdensome on their body and may actually make the dying process more difficult.
  5. Once they go on hospice, my loved one can't see their primary care doctor anymore. Your loved one's doctor will likely remain very involved in their care, even after they go on hospice, according to Erbstoesser. Hospice care teams are generally comprised of many different types of care providers, including: the hospice physician, the hospice nurse care manager, a chaplain, social workers, volunteers, etc. Each member plays a different role in caring for an ailing senior, but the hospice physician will collaborate with your loved one's primary physician to coordinate their care.
  6. My loved one died because I called hospice. Because of the intense emotions that surround hospice and end-of-life care, caregivers and close family members may find themselves feeling that their elderly loved one died because hospice was called in. While she admits that it is an understandable reaction, Erbstosser points out that this line of logic is a bit backwards. "People sometimes have anger towards hospice, but hospice wouldn't have been called in if your loved one wasn't already dying," she says. Hospice care won't kill an elder. In fact, research indicates that people who go on hospice tend to live slightly longer than those who don't. This is, in part, because the hospice care team takes steps to alleviate the symptoms that are putting so much strain on a senior's failing body.

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