If you’ve been caring for a loved one who is facing a serious illness or declining due to aging, you likely already know about some of the sensitive decisions you will have to make on their behalf or together with them. You also know how important it is to consult with your family and health care professionals as well as doing your own research in order to do what’s best for them. One of the biggest decisions you might ever have to make is whether or not your loved one is ready for hospice care. This is a decision many families put off, in part, due to confusion about what hospice actually is. The right ‘time’ for hospice isn’t an exact science but knowing the signs and symptoms to look for can help you and your loved one make a more informed decision.
What is hospice care?
While many people believe hospice is a place people go to during their final stages of the dying process, it is actually much more than that. It is a compassionate philosophy of care and an interdisciplinary set of services designed to support patients and families through the end-of-life process. It's recommended to explore your options when choosing a hospice. These services can, and often are, provided at home. Addressing the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of a patient and their family, hospice focuses on pain relief and symptom management to provide dignity and quality of life at the end of life.
When is the right time to consider hospice?
As a family caregiver, you may want to talk to your loved one’s physician about whether or not it’s time for hospice if you observe one or more of the following signs or symptoms:
- Frequent visits to the ER or hospital admissions
- A decline in their ability to perform daily tasks including eating, getting dressed, walking, or using the bathroom
- An increase in falls
- Changes to their mental abilities
- Progressive weight loss
- Skin tears, infections, and other signs of deteriorating health
In addition, to qualify for hospice care, your loved one must be given a prognosis of six months or less by their health care professional. Meeting with your loved one’s doctor can give you comfort that the decision to start hospice is the right one.
Is palliative care the same thing as hospice care?
Many people confuse the two and that’s understandable because hospice is a type of palliative care. So what is the difference between hospice and palliative care? While many of the comfort care services are the same, hospice includes additional services specific to people facing the end of life. Palliative care alone serves people who are in treatment for a serious or chronic condition such as stroke, heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, or COPD.
How to know when someone is ready for hospice
While your loved one might qualify for hospice care, they may not be mentally and emotionally ready. That’s because facing a limited life expectancy can be a deeply challenging time for everyone, particularly for the person who is experiencing it.
They might be afraid of hospice because they don’t understand what it means, but one of the clearer signs of their readiness is when they continue to express how tired they are of certain realities of their situation. For instance, they may express they’re tired of dealing with multiple infections and hospital visits, or the pain they’re experiencing is overwhelming them. They may feel there’s no reason to go on because they are missing out on all the things that make life worth living to them.
In general, a patient should consider hospice as soon as they decide to stop trying to cure their illness or prolong their life. The sooner a person starts hospice care, the sooner they can find comfort, peace, and in many cases, even joy. That will hopefully give you some comfort, too.