The word "hospice" literally means "a place of shelter." Today, the "place of shelter" is not so much a physical location as it is a service that helps a patient who is terminally ill to die with dignity and peace. Hospice care is also the type of care provided to support a terminally ill patient at home or wherever he or she lives. Care usually involves relieving troublesome symptoms and providing psychological and social support for the patient and family. The goal of hospice care is to not only provide the terminally ill patient and the family with a comfortable death experience, but to also enable the person to live to the fullest, even with a terminal prognosis.
To qualify for hospice care, a patient usually has a life expectancy of less than six months.
Research has shown that hospice care at home helps the entire family. Family members are encouraged to take an active role in providing supportive care to the patient. In doing so, the family experiences fewer feelings of helplessness and the patient is not relying solely on strangers for all of his or her care.
Although many patients receive hospice care at home, hospice care can also take place in other settings, including:
Hospital-based hospice. Most hospitals have a hospice program to give terminally ill patients access to support services and other health care professionals. Some hospitals even have a special hospice unit. Often these units provide intensive medical and psychological support to patients who need aggressive symptom management.
Long-term care hospice. Many nursing homes and long-term care homes have hospice units with specially trained staff for those patients who do not have a primary caregiver at home, or who require medical services not suitable for a home setting. If this is not available, patients can be cared for in the nursing home with hospice services being delivered directly and individually to them.
Freestanding hospices. Independently owned hospices may sometimes include an inpatient care facility, in addition to their home care hospice services. The inpatient facilities offer patients hospice services when a primary caregiver is not available at home, or the patient requires medical services not suitable for a home setting.
Assisted living facility. Many patients reside in personal care homes or assisted living facilities as their home. When they become terminally ill, hospice care services can be provided in their home setting with little or no disruption.
Hospice services are similar to home health care services, but also include:
24-hour care or on-call care
Respite care to give the caregiver a break for up to five days
The option of having a death attended by hospice staff