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Taking Care of Mom and Dad: Admissions to Hospice

One of the first things the hospice program will do is contact your parent's physician to make sure he or she agrees that hospice care is appropriate for this patient at this time. (Most hospices have medical staff available to help patients who have no physician.)

Your parent -- or you, if you have power of attorney1 -- will be asked to sign consent and insurance forms. These are similar to the forms patients sign when they enter a hospital. The so-called "hospice election form" says that the patient understands that the care is palliative (that is, aimed at pain relief and symptom control) rather than curative. It also outlines the services available.

1. Power of attorney and related issues are discussed in detail in Chapter 11.

The form Medicare patients sign also tells how electing the Medicare hospice benefit affects other Medicare coverage.

The hospice provider will assess your parent's needs, recommend any equipment and help make arrangements to obtain any necessary equipment. Often the need for equipment is minimal at first and increases as the disease progresses. In general, hospice will assist in any way it can to make the care as convenient and safe as possible.

Although there is no magic number for knowing how many people -- besides yourself -- that you'll need to make hospice work best, one of the first things a hospice team will do is prepare an individualized care plan. This plan will address the amount of caregiving needed by your mom or dad. Hospice staff visit regularly to answer medical questions, provide support and teach caregivers.

In the early weeks of care, it's usually not necessary for someone to be with the patient all the time. Later, however, since one of the most common patient fears is the fear of dying alone, hospice generally recommends someone be there continuously. While family and friends may deliver most of the care, hospices provide volunteers to assist with errands and to provide a time away for primary caregivers.

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