What is hospice?

Hospice represents a compassionate approach to end-of-life care. Although death is a natural part of life, the thought of dying still terrifies many people. You may imagine pain and loneliness, spending your final days in a cold, sterile environment far from family, friends and all you know and love. However, hospice care can transform your passage into a peaceful, healing transition.

What services are provided?

Hospice services are interdisciplinary, and will be structured according to your needs, which may change over time. The Hospice Association of America (HAA) suggests a hospice team may include any combination of the following services:

  1. Nursing Care. Registered nurses monitor your symptoms and medication, and help educate both you and your family about what's happening. The nurse is also the link between you, your family, and the physician.

  2. Social Services. A social worker counsels and advises you and family members, and acts as your community advocate, making sure you have access to the resources you need.

  3. Physician Services. Your doctor approves the plan of care and works with the hospice team. In a full hospice program, a hospice medical director is available to the attending physician, patient, and hospice care team as a consultant and resource.

  4. Spiritual Support and Counseling. Clergy and other spiritual counselors are available to visit you and provide spiritual support at home. Spiritual care is a personal process, and may include helping you explore what death means to you, resolving "unfinished business," saying goodbye to loved ones, and performing a specific religious ceremony or ritual.

  5. Home Health Aides and Homemaker Services. Home health aides provide personal care such as bathing, shaving, and nail care. Homemakers may be available for light housekeeping and meal preparation.

  6. Trained Volunteer Support. Caring volunteers have long been the backbone of hospice. They're available to listen, offer you and your family compassionate support, and assist with everyday tasks such as shopping, babysitting, and carpooling.

  7. Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapies. These hospice specialists can help you develop new ways to perform tasks that may have become difficult due to illness, such as walking, dressing, or feeding yourself.

  8. Respite Care.Respite care gives your family a break from the intensity of caregiving. Your brief inpatient stay in a hospice facility provides a "breather" for caregivers.

  9. Inpatient Care . By the same token, even if you are being cared for at home, there may be times when you'll need to be admitted to a hospital, extended-care facility, or a hospice inpatient facility. Sometimes medical intervention will be recommended to ease the dying process (for example, an IV drip with pain medication), requiring round-the-clock nursing care. Thus, a facility may be a better choice. Your hospice team will arrange for inpatient care, and remain involved in your treatment and with your family.

  10. Bereavement Support . Bereavement is the time of mourning we all experience following a loss. The hospice care team will work with surviving family members to help them through the grieving process. Support may include a trained volunteer or counselor visiting your family at specific periods during the first year, as well as phone calls, letters and support groups. The hospice will refer survivors to medical or other professional care if necessary.