Debunking Hospice Myths

If you think you know what hospice is, you're probably wrong.

Most people know what kind of health care they want at the end of life, but few know that it is called "hospice." The vast majority of Americans say they want to die at home in comfort and dignity, but many are unaware that this is the kind of death hospice can facilitate.

Hospice programs offer dying people medical care that emphasizes comfort; but hospice care extends beyond strictly medical concerns. Using a team approach, hospice also provides emotional and spiritual support to address the needs of the whole family--the dying patient and the grieving relatives. Most hospice care is provided at home, unless that is not possible. When home care is not feasible, (in about 20 percent of cases) hospice care is provided in hospice inpatient facilities, nursing homes, or hospitals.

Despite its many advantages, more than 25 years after its introduction in this country hospice remains a mystery to most Americans. Common myths and misunderstandings often prevent people from exploring this compassionate option for end-of-life care. Here are ten of those myths--and the truth about what hospice really offers.

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Myth #1: Hospice is a place.

Hospice care is provided wherever the need exists--usually in the patient's home. Although many communities now offer residential hospice facilities, about 80 percent of hospice care takes place at home.

Myth #2: Hospice is

only

for people with cancer.

The hospice model is appropriate for anyone facing the end of life. More than 20 percent of hospice patients nation-wide have diagnoses other than cancer. In urban areas, hospices serve large numbers of HIV/AIDS patients. Increasingly, hospices are also serving families coping with the end-stages of chronic illnesses such as emphysema, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular, and neuromuscular diseases.

Myth #3: Hospice is

only

for old people.

Although the majority of hospice patients are older, hospices serve patients of all ages. A growing number of hospices offer clinical staff with expertise in pediatric hospice care.

Myth #4: Hospice is

only

for dying people.

As a family-centered concept of care, hospice focuses as much on the grieving family as on the dying patient. In addition, most hospices make their grief services available to the community at large, serving schools, churches, and employers. Talk to your local hospice about the full range of services available to people facing loss.

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Naomi Naierman
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