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November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

It’s a subject no one wants to think about, but for every one of us, life eventually must come to an end. Perhaps because it's a scary topic, most people aren't aware of the care choices available to them and their loved one until they are in midst of dealing with a life-limiting illness. The truth is, there are many options for people today to deal with pain, chronic health issues, and complex diseases that may, or may not, get progressively worse. Two important care approaches in these scenarios are hospice and palliative care. But what do the terms "hospice" and "palliative care" mean? Knowing what palliative care is, how it differs from hospice, and when each option is best utilized can people make informed choices about getting the right care for their loved one. Since November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, we thought it was a good time to raise awareness of this sometimes difficult subject.

Palliative care

Palliative care offers pain and symptom management for people of any age and at any stage in a serious illness, whether it is curable, chronic or life-threatening. The focus of palliative care is to make the patient comfortable and help him or her achieve the best possible quality of life. People choose palliative care for such conditions such as COPD, chronic heart failure, kidney or liver disease, or cancer. With palliative care, patients can continue to undergo treatments that may cure or reverse the effects of their illness by helping get pain and symptoms under control. In addition, family and caregivers receive support and education to help offset the stress of dealing with serious illness.

Hospice care

Hospice care is a specific type of palliative care for people who likely have six months or less to live. In essence, hospice care is always palliative, but not all palliative care is hospice care. Hospice is not just for elderly patients. Children receive hospice care, as do patients with neurologically progressive degenerative diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV. It's important to note that many people have lived far beyond the six month mark while in hospice. Don't let the phrase "life-limiting illness" scare you away from hospice or delay opting for it until the last moments. Hospice's goal is to make the patient as comfortable and functional as possible, for as long as possible, by focusing on three related aspects: the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the patient. Hospice counseling also helps patients and families come to terms with the process and gives them a support network. A hospice can also give family caregivers a break through respite care. A trained caregiver will step in to allow family members some time off. Despite these benefits, many people still have the misconception that you come to hospice at the end of a person’s life. Patients don't have to wait until their final week or days of life to choose palliative or hospice care. Instead, hospice staff urge families to discuss end-of-life issues well in advance, while an ill person can still state his or her wishes. And sometimes it’s not the patient delaying that choice but instead, the family who “isn’t ready” to select that option.

Idea has spread

The hospice concept started in Britain and found widespread use in the U.S. in the last three decades. An estimated 1.6 million Americans receive hospice care each year, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Medicare, Medicaid, and most health plans cover hospice programs. A patient can enter hospice care when a doctor assesses that the patient has a terminal illness, and says that he or she has six months or less to live. The patient, family, and doctor decide when hospice service should begin. As mentioned, hospice services don’t automatically end at six months. Some people in hospice care live much longer. Medicare, for instance, continues to provide hospice coverage after six months, as long as the patient’s doctor re-certifies that the patient is terminally ill.

Team approach

Typically, a hospice patient is treated by a team of people. The team includes not only the patient’s family members, but also a doctor, a nurse, counselors, a social worker, pastoral care services, home health aides and trained volunteers. The goal is to control pain and symptoms so that the patient is comfortable yet alert enough to make decisions. The team also helps the family through the grieving process. Hospice is not just a place. Although some hospices have a facility where people receive care in their final days, other hospice programs bring doctors, nurses and other staff to a patient's home. Regardless of where the caring happens, hospice and palliative care programs provide pain management, symptom control, social support and spiritual care to patients and their families when a cure is not always possible.

To learn more

Whether your loved one needs in-home care or prefers to be in a hospice facility, INTEGRIS Hospice Services can meet your hospice and palliative care needs. We also offer support to the family of our patients through respite care, as well as bereavement and grief recovery support groups. To learn more, visit INTEGRIS Hospice Services or call the INTEGRIS HealthLine at 405-951-2277. Stories showing the many ways hospice makes more special moments possible can be found at www.momentsoflife.org.

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