November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month — a time to celebrate the care that helps patients and family caregivers find comfort, respect and support when they’re needed most. This year’s theme is “Hospice: A Program that Works,” and Gilchrist is joining the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and others across the country to raise awareness and educate others about the importance of person- and family-centered care at the end of life.
Hospice, by definition, is a team-oriented approach to providing specialized care for people facing a life-limiting illness. It includes expert medical care, pain management and emotional support for patients and their families, centered on their goals. Put more simply, hospice care supports living one’s life to the fullest with dignity, regardless of how much time remains.
According to a NHPCO survey, when asked to name their greatest fear associated with death, respondents most cited “being a burden to family and friends,” followed by “pain” and “lack of control.” Hospice addresses these fears as well as the entire range of physical and psychological needs of the patient and their family.
Seven in 10 Americans said they would prefer to die at home according to a Time/CNN Poll. But statistics show that only 25 percent do—perhaps because they have misconceptions about hospice care. One of the most pervasive myths of hospice is that hospice patients are merely lying in a bed, barely conscious. This is not the case. When a patient is admitted at an appropriate time, hospice care can improve their quality of life. Hospice allows people to be physically comfortable and pain-free, at peace in their own homes, surrounded by loved ones doing the things they love up until the very end.
Another hospice myth is that families lose control over what happens to their loved ones. The facts are that a family is generally able to choose their preferred hospice provider for a loved one and can be trained to serve as a primary caregiver, with a specialist to provide support when needed. The involvement of family is a vital part of hospice care. The hospice team provides emotional support and advice to help family members become confident caregivers and adjust to the future with grief support for up to a year.
This concept of more family interaction explains the overall goal of hospice—creating more meaningful moments before a life is over. Hospice enables moments and memories that would otherwise not occur, and our Gilchrist care teams have seen this again and again. It is the quality of these final moments, after all, that can define a “good death.”
But hospice is not just for the final days of life. There is no time limit to hospice care, and many patients experience the benefits of hospice for six months or even longer. Choosing hospice does not hasten death. On the contrary, studies show that patients who choose hospice live longer on average than those who do not.
Hospice helps provide comfort and dignity to millions of people, allowing them to spend their final months at home, surrounded by their loved ones. At Gilchrist, families who choose hospice have no regrets. Rather, one of the most frequent comments we hear from families who choose hospice is “Why did we wait so long?”