Senior Living Q & A: What, exactly, is hospice?

Q. The doctor has suggested we put my mother on hospice, but I don’t really understand what that means. Can you explain hospice to me?

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, “Hospice affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death.” The goal of hospice is to enhance the quality of a person’s remaining life by providing medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support. Hospice also provides support for the families of the patient. Hospice can be at home or in a facility with a home-like environment.

Hospice differs from the other types of health care in these ways:

Hospice offers palliative (comfort), rather than curative, treatment.

Hospice treats the person, not the disease.

Hospice emphasizes quality, rather than length, of life.

Hospice considers the entire family, not just the patient.

Professionals are available on an intermittent basis at all times.

Hospice is a program of care designed to provide comfort to patients in their residence, nursing home, assisted living or other setting.

A person becomes eligible for hospice when the decision has been made to stop seeking curative treatment. The doctor writes a referral for hospice. An RN then visits the patient and family and develops a plan of care that reflects the patient’s values and needs. The entire family, not just the patient, is the unit of care.

There will be visits from doctors, nurses, home health aides and volunteers to assist the primary caregiver. Hospice workers are an extra set of hands. They do not substitute for the primary caregiver. They will help bathe the patient, assist with changing bed linens and other tasks. There is always someone on call, 24 hours a day, ready to answer any questions or concerns that come up.

Hospice doesn’t always mean there is no more hope. Fifteen percent of patients are discharged from hospice because they get better. A recent study showed that patients who received hospice care lived an average of 29 days longer than those who did not.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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