Studies show that 80 percent of seniors with life-threatening illnesses prefer to die in their own homes. However, 60 percent die in hospitals instead.
According to Laurel Willis, Social Worker with Bethesda Hospice Care, the origins of the hospice program may be the reason.
Misunderstanding the Essence of Hospice Care
“When hospice care began 60 years ago, it was for terminal cancer patients who had just a few days to live,” Laurel says. “This misperception has remained, despite the fact that hospice now involves many other life-limiting illnesses. People still think it means imminent death, even though it clearly does not.” Others may not know that Medicare and Medicaid provide coverage for hospice services.
Hospice provides compassionate, comforting care for people facing a terminal illness with a physician’s prognosis of six months or less to live. However, almost half (43%) of people who qualify do not enter a hospice program until the final two weeks of life and one-third do not receive the benefits of hospice until the final week of life.
“There is not much we can do in a week or two,” Laurel says. “We can help the family prepare the home, arrange for medical equipment, and begin pain management. However, we are missing out on a major benefit of hospice care — our ability to learn about the patient and the family and meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.”
What Hospice Does
Hospice care is a team effort involving, physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, and chaplains.
Medications are administered to ease pain, and the physical condition of the patient is constantly monitored to adjust care as needed.
Aides provide in-home care such as bathing and other hygiene needs like shaving and dressing, as well as helping the patient move from room to room within the home.
Social workers evaluate the well-being and emotional status of hospice patients, encourage communications with and among family members, and help with stress management and difficult discussions that may need to take place between estranged family members.
Chaplains provide spiritual support through prayer and religious observances that are important to the patient and their family.
The benefit of Hospice Care personnel listening to patients and family while performing a home visit cannot be overemphasized. Laurel remembers that while her own mother was in hospice care, it was too difficult for her to talk to her children and husband about her death. “But she could talk to a hospice team member because they weren’t as emotionally attached as the family,” says Laurel.
Hospice is About Life
Hospice is not about dying. It is about living every moment to the fullest. It is delivered with expertise clothed in compassion. The patient and family learn to come to terms with the end of a life, even as the hospice team learns about what the patient and family want.
“Decisions regarding hospice should be made when it becomes clear that pursuing treatment is no longer the answer,” Laurel says. “There is so much we can do if we have time to build relationships with the patient and family.”
After the loved one’s death, hospice care provides grief support. “If we have had sufficient time with the family, we can be far more helpful in meeting their needs when they are grieving.”
Does hospice provide a vital and effective service? In a survey of families who have experienced a hospice care program, 98 percent said they would recommend it to other families when the need arises.
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and Bethesda is spreading the word about the benefits of hospice care for seniors and their loved ones. Bethesda offers hospice care services throughout the St. Louis area. Learn more about our services and find additional information about the unique benefits of hospice care on our blog.