Living with Serious Illness
A Resource for Spokane County Sponsored by Horizon Hospice

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Hospice FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

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There are many questions, even myths, about hospice. Here are a few of the most common questions that may help you get a better understanding of hospice and how it can benefit your family:

Is hospice only for people who are dying?

Hospice is for people who have a limited life expectancy. (Actually, we all have a limited life expectancy, so it is more specific than that.) Hospice is for patients whose condition is such that a doctor would not be surprised if the patient died within the next six months. This doesn't mean the patient is going to die in the next six months--it simply means that he or she has a condition that makes dying a realistic possibility.

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Who is best suited for hospice care?

Hospice patients are those with very serious medical conditions. Usually they have diseases that are life threatening and make day-to-day living very uncomfortable physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Some are in pain. Others experience difficult symptoms such as nausea, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may be caused by the disease, or they may have been caused by treatments intended to cure the disease. Often patients turn to hospice because they are anxious or depressed, or they are feeling spiritually distressed because of their medical condition. Hospice specializes in easing pain, discomfort, and distress on all levels. The care provided by hospice is often helpful for conditions such as cancer, heart disease, COPD (emphysema), advanced dementia, or a general weakness and "failure to thrive." Seriously ill patients who have decided that their priority is to have the best quality of life possible are the people who are best suited for hospice.

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Isn't using hospice the same as "giving up"?

Not at all! Although it may be that your loved one's condition has reached a point that a cure is not likely--or not likely enough to be worth the side effects of treatment--that does not mean there is nothing left to do. In fact, an emphasis on quality of life and easing pain and distress often allows the patient to spend his or her last months focusing on the things that are ultimately the most important and meaningful. As one man put it, "I'd rather spend my time with my children and grandchildren than waste my limited time and energy driving to the treatment center and recovering beside the toilet bowl." With the expert guidance of a nurse and case manager, as well as the assistance of bath aides, social workers, and chaplains, patients and families find they can focus on their relationships, healing old wounds and building wonderful memories together. Far from giving up, hospice helps families truly live well and support each other during a stressful, but in the end very natural, family life passage.

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Should we wait for the doctor to suggest hospice?

You can, but oddly enough, doctors often wait for families to bring it up. This is part of the reason that people often receive hospice care so late in the process. If you think your loved one and family might benefit from the support of weekly home visits from staff who specialize in pain control and the easing of distress, ask your doctor if hospice might be something to consider now, or in the near future. If, when you are truly honest with yourself, you realize that you would not be surprised if your loved one were to die in the next six to twelve months, ask the doctor if he or she would be surprised. If the answer is anything close to "No, I would not be surprised," then maybe it's a good time to begin a discussion about hospice. If you would like more information, please feel free to call us at 509-489-4581. We would be happy to talk with you or to do an informational home visit—no obligation or strings attached.

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When is the best time to start hospice care?

Most patients and families who receive hospice care say they wish they had known about it earlier, that they needed the help much sooner than they received it. Research has shown that hospice can increase both the quality of life and how long a patient lives. Families who receive hospice near the very end--just a few days to a week--have been shown to have a harder time adjusting during the bereavement period than do those whose loved one receives hospice care for weeks and months before passing on. If you even think that your family and the person you care for could benefit from pain or symptom management, assistance with bathing and grooming, emotional and spiritual support, and telephone access to caregiving advice, ask your physician if hospice might be a service to consider. Experts agree that at least two to three months of care is optimal. It is better to ask sooner rather than later so you do not regret having missed the support that hospice has to offer.

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Who pays for hospice?

If the person you care for has Medicare and meets hospice eligibility requirements, then the government will pay 100% of the cost. There is no deductible and no copayment. Not only are the services of the hospice staff entirely covered, but medical supplies and prescriptions relating to pain and comfort management are also covered 100% by Medicare. Individuals who do not have Medicare coverage but have coverage from private insurance should talk with their insurance company to find out whether there are eligibility criteria and how much is required in terms of a deductible and copayments. Hospice care is also covered by Medicaid.

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Do I have to leave my home to receive hospice care?

Hospice care is provided wherever the client may be: in their own home or a family member’s home, a skilled nursing home, an assisted living facility, or an adult family home. Hospice care is also provided in inpatient units, VA hospitals, and correctional facilities.

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I'm not sure my family has the skills to provide care. Can we still use hospice?

Family members are encouraged, supported, and trained by hospice professionals to care for their loved ones. Hospice staff is on call to the client and his or her family 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to help family and friends care for their loved ones.

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Is hospice care just for people with Cancer or AIDs?

Over fifty percent of hospice clients are diagnosed with conditions other than cancer or AIDs. People with congestive heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), end-stage kidney disease, and the last stages of dementia can all benefit from hospice care.

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Is hospice just for the elderly?

No. Hospice care is for anyone facing a life-limiting illness, regardless of age.

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Does hospice care stop when the patient dies?

No. Because we care for the whole family, hospice provides bereavement support for family members after their loved one has died. In fact, our grief support services are available to the entire community, even if the family was not involved with hospice beforehand.

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