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Taking Care of Mom and Dad: What Is Hospice Care?

Hospice is a comprehensive regimen of care to both patients and families facing a life-ending illness. It's a specific way of caring for a patient whose disease cannot be cured. Hospice is a care concept, not a specific place or facility. The concept originated over 500 years ago as a way for the sick and dying to find final rest and comfort.

Because hospice care only treats terminal cases, there is no attempt to cure the patient. Hospice care maximizes the remaining quality of life rather than quantity of life. The dying are comforted, medical care is provided and symptom relief is given. The patient and family are both included in the care plan and emotional, spiritual and practical support is given based on the patient's wishes and family's needs. Trained volunteers can offer respite care for family members as well as support to the patient.

Hospice care affirms life by treating dying as a normal process. It neither accelerates nor postpones death. Hospice provides personalized services and a caring community so that patients and families can attain the necessary preparation for a death that is satisfactory to them.

Those involved in the process of dying have a variety of physical, spiritual, emotional and social needs. The nature of dying is so unique that the goal of the hospice team is to be sensitive and responsive to the special requirements of each individual and family.

Hospice care is provided to anyone who has a limited life expectancy. Although most hospice patients have cancer, hospices usually accept anyone regardless of age or illness. These patients have made a decision to spend their last months in a homelike setting.

Hospice care is provided through a medically directed team. This team typically includes a physician, a nurse, a home health aide, a social worker, a chaplain and a volunteer.

  • The hospice nurse makes regularly scheduled visits to the patient providing pain management and symptom control techniques. While the patient is under the care of hospice, the nurse keeps the primary physician informed of the patient's condition. Nurses provide skilled care and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Home health aides provide assistance with the personal care of the patient.
  • Social workers provide assistance with practical and financial concerns as well as emotional support and counseling. They evaluate the need for volunteers and other support services for the family and facilitate communication between the family and community agencies.
  • Chaplains provide spiritual support to patients and families, often serving as a liaison between them and their religious community. Chaplains often assist with memorial services and funeral arrangements.
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