Dispelling Common Myths About Hospice Care

By Darlene Thurber, Executive Director of Journey Hospice.

As a hospice provider, we find the word ‘hospice’ often instills fear and anxiety in patients and their loved ones. The dreaded ‘H’ word carries a preconceived stigma that death is imminent, which is not necessarily true. As a result, most patients enter hospice with less than a month to live, preventing them from experiencing the full benefits of hospice. We often encounter family members who say they wish they’d called hospice earlier. Most people are shocked to discover that hospice care can actually enhance a patient’s life, provide comfort, and help families through the end-of-life process.

Allow us to shed some light on several hospice myths.

Myth # 1: Hospice is only for patients who are close to death.

While it’s true there needs to be a physician order that certifies the patient has six months or less to live for hospice services, there are unlimited benefit periods that a hospice patient can stay on service. As long as there is a demonstrated decline, even a subtle decline, hospice care can be provided. By choosing hospice care early, patients and families reap the benefits of having a core team of hospice care professionals. The provision of pain management, comfort measures, holistic therapies, emotional support, medical care, information, and care coordination add a higher level of support. Once the doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers, chaplains, certified home health aides, volunteers, massage therapists are directing their efforts towards the patients and families, the patient is more comfortable, the family less anxious, and often quality time can ensue during this journey.

Myth #2: You can’t keep your own doctor if you enter a hospice program.

Your family physician or specialist is encouraged to remain engaged in your care. The Hospice Physician works closely with your doctor – who knows you better (medically) than anyone else – to determine the specific medical needs that will be addressed in your individual plan of care.

Myth #3: When you go on hospice you are giving up hope.

We’ve found the contrary situation occurs. We’ve seen that even when the disease progresses its normal course, terminally ill patients who receive hospice care often live longer than similar patients who don’t receive hospice care.

Myth #4: Hospice will automatically give a patient morphine and will advance the dying process.

Not all hospice patients are automatically placed on morphine. The narcotic, morphine, is used for uncontrollable pain or difficulty breathing. Studies have shown that morphine does not hasten death when administered to provide comfort at the end of life.

Myth #5: Hospice stops feeding patients.

This is quite the contrary. We actually encourage our hospice patients to indulge in their favorite foods, or cravings. If they want ice cream for breakfast, so be it! Loss of appetite and thirst, as well as weight loss are a natural phenomenon for a hospice patient. It is part of the normal process.

Myth #6: Hospice is only for people with cancer.

In reality, more than half of patients admitted to hospice do not have cancer. Other chronic diagnoses include end-stage cardiac, end-stage dementia, congestive heart failure, congestive obstructive pulmonary disease, neurological diseases, such as Parkinson, ALS, and kidney disease.

The benefits of hospice care are beyond measure. By engaging in hospice care early, patients and families can experience peace-of-mind – allowing for quality time with their loved ones.