What is a hospice?

Hospice care is a phrase that often evokes a myriad of emotions including fear, sadness and even denial. But, in the end, good hospice care should be thought of as gentle, peaceful, supportive and reliving.

The definition of hospice is care given to a terminally ill patient so his or her final days can be lived out in dignity and comfort. It is actually more of a concept of care than one particular style or prescription. Hospice care, which is usually given when a person has less than 6 months to live, can be given in a person's home, hospital or special hospice residence.

Hospices can make the last weeks of life comfortableA team of people work together to provide medical care that keeps the patient comfortable for as long as possible as well as address both practical support and emotional support for the whole family as they walk through the final journey. Since it is holistic, hospice affects everyone around the patient, not just the patient.


For the patient, nurses and home health aids work to keep him or her comfortable in several ways. They administer prescription pain medications, monitor vital signs like breathing and heart rate, and make adjustments in the surrounding atmosphere as needed. Since care is simply comfort rather than cure, the nursing can be less invasive than a regular hospital stay. Sometimes hospice nurses see a patient begin to feel better once he is away from the hospital atmosphere because he can just relax and concentrate on his loved ones.

In addition, hospice services provide in-home medical equipment like special beds, bathroom aids and other needed machinery. Skilled technicians set them up, demonstrate how to use them and maybe most importantly, remain on-call for any questions or problems. These in-home options can make a world of difference.

Part of the hospice team usually involves folks who can provide spiritual guidance or counseling. These services can give great comfort to the patient.


For the main caregiver, hospice lets them put down the caregiver mantel for a while and just be a loved one. Sometimes the person helping the loved one has worked so hard, they have not had time to process what is happening and may not be able to formulate the things they want to say. Hospice care gives him or her breathing room.

Plus, the spiritual and emotional work being done is also for the caregiver, not just the patient. Hospice volunteers are trained to help everyone in the room. Because the patient is able to get away from the hospital and still be relatively comfortable, the caregiver often experiences less stress and fear in those last days.

Hospice is usually covered by private insurance or Medicaid. Someone on the team can help the caregiver understand the financial ramifications as well as other paperwork around illness and death.

So, when your family reaches that place no one wants to think about, consider hospice care. Hospice doesn't prolong life, it just makes the days left better and more manageable.