Thinking about and planning for end-of-life care isn’t something most of us want to do. We want to hope that our loved one will get better, that the next surgery or treatment will work and everything will be fine. It’s hard to admit that this might not happen. So when someone suggests hospice care, it’s easy to come up with reasons to say no. Often, however, our reasons are based in misunderstanding. Here are five common misconceptions about hospice care:
Reality: Hospice is available for patients with any condition that their physician believes will claim life within six months. Hospice care helps patients enjoy the comforts of home and family, draw on social and emotional support, and manage symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and inability to sleep. Many patients and their families find that the emotional support and the pain management expertise hospice offers can make a huge difference even months earlier.
Reality: People with advanced life-limiting conditions of any type, including end-stage dementia, AIDS, heart disease, or emphysema—as well as cancer—can benefit from hospice and palliative care.
Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth.The care that hospice provides is palliative, which means that it focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms of a disease but does not seek to cure it. Palliative care not only enhances quality of life, but it can also help patients live longer. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that among 151 patients newly diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, those who at the start of the trial received palliative care in addition to standard cancer treatment lived nearly three months longer than those who received only cancer treatment. The palliative-care group also reported less depression and a better quality of life, and they were less likely to choose aggressive (often painful and uncomfortable) end-of-life care.
Reality: One of the foundations of hospice care is that a person’s final months are still a part of life’s journey. Your doctor has been an important part of that journey, and patients in hospice care remain under the care of their own physicians, who work with the patient, family, and the hospice team to enhance quality of life and ensure that the patient is as comfortable as possible.
Reality: Hospice is a special concept of care, not a place, so hospice care can be delivered wherever a person lives—in a private residence, a skilled nursing or assisted living facility, or at a hospice residence or hospital. The focus of hospice is to provide personalized care and companionship that meets each patient’s needs and wishes, and that offers the most comfort possible in any setting.