What is Hospice Care?

alt In its earliest days, the concept of hospice was rooted in the centuries-old idea of offering a place of shelter and rest, or "hospitality" to weary and sick travelers on a long journey.

In 1967, Dame Cicely Saunders at St. Christopher's Hospice in London first used the term "hospice" to describe specialized care for dying patients. Today, hospice care provides humane and compassionate care for people in the last phases of an incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.

Hospice is a philosophy of care. The hospice philosophy or viewpoint accepts death as the final stage of life. The goal of hospice is to help patients live their last days as alert and pain-free as possible. Hospice care tries to manage symptoms so that a person's last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice care treats the person rather than the disease; it focuses on quality of life rather than length of life. It is family-centered including the patient, family, and caregivers in making decisions.

This care is 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and can be given in a patient's home, a nursing facility, or private hospice facility. Most hospice care is given in the home, with family members or friends serving as the main hands-on caregivers. Because of this, a patient getting home hospice care must have a caregiver in the home with them 24 hours a day.

Hospice care is used when you can no longer be helped by curative treatment, and you are expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its normal course. Hospice gives you palliative care, which is treatment to help relieve disease-related symptoms, but not cure the disease; its main purpose is to improve your quality of life. You, your family, and your doctor decide together when hospice services should begin.

One common misconception is that hospice starts right before death. Doctors, patients, or family members may resist hospice because he or she thinks it means you're "giving up," or that there is no hope. This is not true. If you get better or the cancer goes into remission, you can be taken out of the hospice program and go into active cancer treatment. You can return to hospice care later, if needed. The goal for hospice is to improve your quality of life making the best of each day during the last stages of advanced illness.