If you were a European warrior or religious pilgrim on the way to Jerusalem during the Middle Ages, chances are you lodged at a “hospes house” on the arduous journey. The holy orders of knights such as the Hospitallers and Templars ran these travel lodges named after the Latin word that means both “guest” and “host.” Over time, hospes houses expanded to offer care for the sick and dying. Derived from “hospes,” our modern-day word “hospice” is known as a place for the dying or the practice of end-of-life care.
Part of hospice services may include palliative (pronounced pal-ee-ey-tiv) care, the medical specialty of alleviating pain and improving the quality of life of the seriously ill. Hospice care begins after health treatment for an illness has stopped and the patient is considered terminal. Palliative care can begin as soon as a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness and can continue while the individual pursues a cure. November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month to help raise awareness of the skilled, compassionate care that both disciplines offer. The campaign’s 2017 theme is “It’s About How You Live.”
How Does Hospice and Palliative Care Work?
Hospice providers alone care for more than 1.6 million Americans and their families annually. While hospice does involve caring for the terminally ill, hospice care is more than seeing someone through their final days. An integrated team of healthcare professionals and trained volunteers work together to manage pain, control symptoms, and bolster emotional and spiritual needs. Hospice teams ensure patients and their loved ones find support, respect and dignity along the difficult path of a life-limiting illness.
Palliative care offers a holistic approach to helping reduce the suffering of anyone with a serious, chronic or life-threatening illness, not just those who are dying. As death draws near, palliative care often segues into hospice. Interdisciplinary palliative care teams are typically comprised of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and physical and occupational therapists who assist with the pain of cancer, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and other chronic diseases or disorders.
Who Qualifies for Hospice and Palliative Care?
Hospice serves those with a terminal diagnosis in their homes or at freestanding hospice centers, nursing homes, in-patient care facilities and hospitals. Hospice teams primarily serve in a patient’s home because most end-of-life individuals prefer to pass in their own home surroundings. Hospice care is available to any patient of any age, race, religion or illness. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization notes that hospice services “focus on caring, not curing” and “hospice is not ‘giving up,’ nor is it a form of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.” Instead, hospice care helps patients and their families embrace life as fully as possible. In some cases, hospice patients rally to make a full recovery.
Most Medicaid, Medicare and private health insurance plans cover palliative and hospice services. Hospice care covered by Medicare requires that a person receive a prognosis of living six months or less, but there is not a six-month limit on hospice care services. A patient with a doctor’s certification of terminal illness may receive hospice support for as long as necessary.
Any person with a serious illness can benefit from palliative support, which emphasizes the quality of life for the whole person including one’s relationships. Palliative care may include educating family members and caregivers on the patient’s illness, treatment plans and medications. Palliative services ease the symptoms or side effects of an illness including:
- Sleep difficulty
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of appetite
- Fear and anxiety
- Depression and hopelessness
The majority of U.S. medical schools now offer hospice and palliative care programs and are instructing medical students in these specialized branches of pain management and end-of-life care. It is important to work alongside a care client to develop and tailor a care plan and strategy that meets their own goals, values and needs. Right at Home caregivers support a range of hospice and palliative services for everyday needs, such as personal care, meal preparation and light housekeeping. Hospice and palliative medicine means skilled, compassionate teams working together for the good of the care client and the family.
What hospice or palliative care services have helped your senior or other loved one?