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Hospice Care Can Help Your Loved One Live Each Day to Its Fullest

Getting the word out about the benefits of hospice care is not always easy. Hospice care is perhaps one of the most misunderstood types of medical care—even among health care professionals. Hospice care is designed to bring under one umbrella all of the services, medicines and supplies needed for people living with a terminal illness.

When a Medicare certified hospice provides care to a patient, it is required to provide everything that person needs related to the comfort management and symptom control of the illness expected to cause the patient's death. Typical routine services include medical management, nursing care, social services, hospice aide services, spiritual care, and volunteer services. Medications, tests, therapies, equipment and supplies needed for the comfort management of the terminal illness, 24 hour on-call nursing support, and a thirteen month bereavement program for loved ones after the patient's death are also provided.

Care is typically provided in the patient's place of residence. Most often care is provided in the home but may also be provided in an independent living facility, an assisted living facility or nursing home. The goal of the hospice team is to keep the patient in their place of residence until death while controlling pain and symptoms. However, if a patient cannot be kept comfortable at home, an option does exist to tend to increased levels of pain and symptoms in an acute facility. Hospices use inpatient care when a hospice patient needs to go to the hospital for a serious, acute problem that is related to the terminal illness. These stays are usually short term and used to manage symptoms that cannot be managed at home.

Another option provided under the hospice benefit that is unique and provides relief to caretakers is the respite benefit. Under the respite benefit the patient may go into a skilled nursing facility for up to five days during a benefit period to give caregivers a break. During the respite period caregivers can attend an out-of-town event such as a wedding or graduation or can simply take a much needed break.

Unfortunately, referrals are often made to hospice at the very end of a terminal illness and the hospice team is unable to address all of the needs of the terminally ill and their families. In fact, many patients' families comment that, "we wish we would have gotten the referral to hospice sooner."

For many, talking about hospice care is not an easy subject to broach. Many people are uncomfortable talking about end-of-life care because no one wants to think about death. Perhaps if people understood that hospice is actually about adding "life" to a person's end-of-life journey, they would be more inclined to get support sooner.

Adding "life" to terminal patients means giving them and their loved ones as much quality care and compassionate support as possible. That care and support comes in many forms—physical, spiritual and emotional.

In most cases, the earlier a patient with a terminal illness is referred to hospice care, the better quality of life he or she will have in their remaining months. Early referrals allow the patient to benefit from pain and symptom management while he or she is still well enough to live each day to the fullest.

It also allows for the patient to be more involved in making decisions, which helps the family and offers assistance in dealing with unresolved issues. This in turn lets families know that the choices they are making are what their loved ones desire.

Many wonder how to make a referral to hospice. Often a patient's family, friend, a loved one, a spiritual advisor, or even a neighbor will make the initial call to hospice. Before actual admission, however, the patient's physician must certify that the patient is medically appropriate for hospice care.

After the patient's physician certifies that the patient is medically appropriate for hospice care, a hospice nurse will assess the patient and admit the patient to hospice. The patient and his or her family can then begin to reap all the benefits of hospice services and live each day to its fullest.

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