There may come a time during a serious illness when efforts to cure or slow the illness in your elderly parent are no longer working and can even be harmful, rather than helpful. If your parent is seriously ill and facing a poor prognosis, you and your family should know that there's a special type of medical care that can help ensure that the final months of life are as good as they can be. This care is called hospice care, and its goal is to give your parent control, dignity and comfort during their final months of life.

What is Hospice Care?

Hospice is a specific type of palliative care, which means it focuses on caring, not curing. It provides pain and symptoms relief, helps your parent and your family plan your care, and guides you through the health care system. While anyone at any stage of their illness can receive palliative care, hospice care is for people who may have six months or less to live. Hospice care provides:

  • Pain and symptom relief
  • Bereavement counseling for family members and loved ones
  • Assistance in organizing financial affairs
  • Help in navigating the healthcare system

Who Provides Hospice Care?

Hospice care is provided by doctors who are specially trained in hospice and palliative medicine, as well as a team of caregivers, including nurses, social workers, chaplains, physical therapists, dietitians, volunteers and others.

Will a Doctor Have to Recommend Hospice Care Before a Patient can be Admitted?

Anyone can contact their local hospice provider and request hospice services at any time. The hospice staff will then contact your doctor to determine if hospice is appropriate and work with you to provide care.

When Should Someone Receive Hospice Care?

Anyone who likely has six months or less to live qualifies for hospice care. However, many people wait until death is imminent – weeks or even days away – before seeking hospice care, missing out on months of helpful care for themselves and their loved ones.

What Are Some Benefits of Hospice Care?

Hospice care is patient-focused, which means it helps patients manage the stress and burden of a serious illness. Hospice care manages pain and symptoms so patients can focus on being with loved ones and having some control over how they spend their last months. Hospice care also provides services such as respite care and bereavement support to families.

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Where is Hospice Care Available?

Hospice care is available nationwide, and is usually provided at home. It can also be provided in the hospital, in an assisted living center. Hospice also is offered in nursing homes.

Does Insurance Cover Hospice Care?

Many private insurance plans and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) offer hospice and palliative care benefits. Medicare offers the full scope of hospice benefits including medications for pain and symptom management, doctor visits, counseling, and other hospice services, but does not cover the costs of aggressive treatment measures intended to cure an illness. Medicaid coverage of hospice and palliative care is available for people with limited incomes, and benefits vary by state.

How Can A Patient Find Hospice Care?

If you are interested in hospice care, ask your personal doctor to refer you to a hospice and palliative doctor or hospice organization in your area.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine is an organization of 3,800 physicians and other healthcare providers who are dedicated to improving the quality of life of patients facing life-threatening or serious conditions, answers questions about hospice and palliative care.