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Last Updated on November 7, 2021 by Frank Davis
Hospice is a healthcare specialty that provides end-of-life support, pain management and comfort care for people with a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice care can be provided at home or in a facility. Although both palliative care and hospice are for people who are terminally ill or have advanced disease that can’t be cured, the terms are not synonymous. Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life for people with serious illnesses, including those who are at the end-of-life. It’s available throughout the course of a serious illness — not just at the end-of-life and it can be provided along with curative therapies (treatments meant to prolong life). There generally isn’t a set time frame for hospice, as it begins once you and your doctor decide that your disease is terminal and you’re expected to live six months or less.
Hospice care may be an option for people with or without insurance coverage. Medicare is the primary insurer for end-of-life care, but all states provide public funding options through Medicaid, and other government programs. The patient’s hospice may also have payment assistance programs. There are also many charitable organizations that provide funding assistance.
But knowing when it’s time to seek hospice care is sometimes difficult because this decision isn’t solely about the amount of time a person has left to live, but also about how that individual’s quality of life will be. Some people, such as those who are terminally ill and in intense pain, would greatly benefit from hospice. But others, such as those who have advanced or even terminal illnesses but a strong will to live, may prefer to keep battling their illness.
It ultimately comes down to a patient and his or her support system deciding when hospice is needed. Here are some factors that can help you decide:
When is it time for hospice?
If your doctor tells you that you have six months or less to live because of a terminal illness, you may want to consider hospice care. Hospice care gives you the opportunity to spend your final days living as fully as possible.
Living with a terminal illness can be emotionally stressful, and it’s often difficult for family members and friends to cope with the loss they’re facing. At this point, hospice can help ease physical pain and discomfort from the disease while also addressing emotional issues that may arise from impending death.
In addition, hospice offers counseling services that can help individuals understand their feelings about dying and how they might cope during this time of grief. Hospice program staff may also help individuals set goals for the future. Their preparation may include making funeral arrangements, hiring a living trust attorney or making other reference points.
Symptoms that indicate its time for hospice
There can be physical and emotional symptoms that signal it’s time for hospice. Physical symptoms may include:
- Extreme weight loss and muscle wasting
- Fever and/or chills — usually a sign of infection, but can indicate other health problems as well, contact your doctor immediately
- Anxiety or depression — many patients find that as their condition progresses and they become less mobile, they feel scared, uneasy or depressed as they prepare for death. It’s important to understand these feelings and know that others have them as well, but the help of a counselor may be useful if anxiety becomes severe.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing — a change in the amount you’re breathing, shortness of breath during rest and problems breathing when lying down may indicate a decline in your health.
- Vomiting blood or passing blood in urine or stool — it’s important to notify hospice if bleeding from any orifice occurs. Early intervention can prevent further complications.
- Inability to swallow — difficulty swallowing is often a symptom of advanced cancer, but may also occur with other illnesses. If you have difficulty eating or drinking, visit a doctor immediately. Encourage family members to be on the lookout for problems that could result from swallowing difficulties.
- Nausea and/or vomiting — nausea and vomiting can be caused by certain medications, an infection or an inability to digest food. It’s important that you contact hospice if such symptoms become severe or occur frequently.
- Bed Sores that do not get better and stay at stage 4 regardless of wound treatment.
- Observable deterioration of health
You may need hospice care when you have been sick for a long time or get worse. If the symptoms get worse over a short period of time, this may be a sign of another serious illness. In addition, many patients who are terminally ill stop eating and/or drinking. If you’re not eating or drinking for any reason, you should contact your doctor immediately. When you see your doctor, they will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. They may then refer you to hospice care if they believe that it would be beneficial for you to receive palliative care.
There are many signs that may suggest hospice is the best option for your situation. When your doctor indicates that your illness is terminal, it’s more likely that hospice would provide benefits to both you and those around you.
How do I know if hospice is right for me?
To determine whether or not it’s the best option for your situation, you should speak with your doctor. Your doctor is trained to discuss your symptoms and determine if hospice services are beneficial for you. Your physician will help you understand what is happening to your body and how hospice can help you cope with the symptoms that may occur during this time of transition. If your physician believes that hospice is right for you, they likely will suggest that you talk with a counselor to help you work through the emotional issues that may arise as a result of this physical change.
Who pays for Hospice Care?
If you have insurance, you can call your insurer to learn whether it covers hospice care. Most health insurance companies are set up to accept claims for palliative care, but may not cover all treatments. Make sure that your doctor knows that you are covered for hospice services through your insurer before beginning your treatment plan. Hospice benefits are based on the diagnosis of a medical condition and usually require approval for payment by the patient’s health insurance company.
If you aren’t insured, there are still options available to you. Your doctor or other healthcare provider may be able to refer you to a palliative care program with funding assistance through charitable organizations or community foundations. You should make contact with these health service providers before starting treatment to determine eligibility requirements and any co-pays for medical services.
The right care at the right time can make all the difference. If you are struggling with your health, don’t hesitate to seek out help. Hospice care can make the difference between an end of life experience that is truly meaningful, or one that feels like a burden or obstacle. Call now to learn more or book an appointment with one of our compassionate palliative care specialists today. We treat all patients with compassion and respect, regardless of their ability to pay for treatment services. Call for an appointment at (818) 433-0068 today to speak with a palliative care specialist today.
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