3 myths and 3 truths about hospice

As I travel around speaking about preparing for peace at the end of life, I have found that there are three pervasive myths about hospice that might cause you to inadvertently rob yourself or your family of a peace-filled end-of-life experience.

So, I am taking on the job of myth-buster to clear the air. Here goes:

Myth #1: Hospice is a place. While hospice can be a place, it is primarily a service. Let me explain. Community hospice homes are places to serve those who are too ill to be served in their own homes. And this leads to my point. The ultimate role of hospice is to serve people in their very own homes as they approach their expected end-of-life. This is super important because almost 90 percent of Americans say that this is what they want –to spend their last months, days, and hours living in the place they call home, not somewhere else. Hospice care makes this possible.

Myth #2: Hospice is for people who are taking their last dying breaths. Wrong again. Hospice is for people who are trying to have maximal quality-of-life until life is over. Studies even show that people with certain conditions live longer under hospice care than they do with traditional cure-focused treatments and not only do they live longer, they live better! So, what can one do with all of this quality time created at the end of life by hospice care? Here is what some have done while on hospice: gone on a cruise, moved to the beach, written their life story, enjoyed a “going away party” or, simply spent more time with their grandchildren.

Myth #3: Hospice gives you medicines that kill you. This is the worst myth of all. Good hospice care means that distressing symptoms are under control so that the person can enjoy quality of life. Unfortunately, far too many people are put on hospice care when they have only a few days or hours to live anyway and are experiencing poorly controlled symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath –which requires stronger medications for management. This leaves the negative impression that hospice showed up, gave them some medications, and then they died. In reality, they were dying anyway, and all hospice did was take away the physical suffering.

OK, so those were three myths about hospice. Now, let me give you three truths about hospice:

Truth #1: Hospice is a Medicare benefit intended to support those who appear to be in the last six months of life. Some people on hospice actually end up living longer, and some will get so much better they are actually discharged from hospice care.

Truth #2: There are common signs that might indicate someone could be ready for hospice care:

  • weight loss
  • increased pain, nausea, fatigue or other symptoms
  • increased need for assistance
  • decreased alertness
  • increased hospitalizations
  • family exhausted from caregiving demands
  • make sure to speak with your healthcare provider if this pattern sounds familiar.

Truth #3: Hospice care is the only type of (allopathic) medical care which focuses not only on the well-being of your body, but also on the well-being of your mind, your relationships, and your spirit.

So, now you know the truth.

Don’t let common myths stand in the way of peace at the end of life. Hospice care could end up being one of the best gifts you will ever give to the people that you love.

Monica Williams-Murphy is an emergency physician and author of It’s OK to Die.

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