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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published June 05 2011

Bursack: Hospice goal is dignity, less pain at end of life

Dear Carol: What exactly is hospice care? What can I expect? I just talked to my father’s pulmonary doctor, and my dad is at the point that there is nothing more that can be done. The doctor thinks we should consider hospice care. I’m not really sure what hospice is. I’m scared they “help” people die, and I do not want that. Does Medicare cover hospice? Is home hospice available? I’d appreciate some information. – Don

Dear Don: Like any other care provider, hospice organizations are unique, however they should all follow the basic premise that “no one need die in pain.” For the most part, hospice care gets raves from families and patients, alike. What hospice organizations hear most often from families is “I wish we’d called sooner.”

I recommend a nonprofit hospice organization, if you have access to one. If you have more than one hospice organization to choose from, ask for references from families. Many families who’ve used hospice care for loved ones are willing to share their opinion of the organization.

Hospice care helps people stay comfortable during the death process, creating an atmosphere for death with dignity. They have a record of helping some people live longer than they otherwise would have.

Once hospice takes over the person’s care, they work with the other health providers to administer what is called palliative care. Palliative care is comfort care for those who cannot be cured. Hospice administers medication, and all medications have side effects. The goal is to give the patient the best quality of life possible.

Most hospice organizations offer the help of a chaplain for those who want additional spiritual guidance. They also offer counseling for the families going through the death process with their loved one. Hospice has a grief support group program for family aftercare, if the family chooses that option.

Hospice care is, under most circumstances, covered by Medicare. They provide care wherever the ill person lives.

Both of my parents had hospice care, and my family knows that I want hospice care if I am ever in a situation where I am terminal and in pain. When my time comes, if I have a choice, I want to die with as much dignity as I can have and have as little pain as possible, so that I can enjoy the people I love.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.