Hospice and Palliative Care

by Lavonne Noel
Executive Director
Hospice of Dubuque

Former President Jimmy Carter recently chose to enter hospice care bringing national attention to a vital service that is often misunderstood. With this news, the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Iowa recently provided clarification about hospice and palliative care, hoping to dispel myths that exist about this medical specialty.

A common misconception is that entering hospice means the patient has given up or only has days to live. Neither is true. Hospice care actually focuses on living. Hospice services are intended for the last six months of life or longer. People entering hospice have made the decision to emphasize comfort, dignity, and quality of life. Hospice helps individuals live with their symptoms managed, in their preferred environment, with support for them and their family, so life can be lived to the fullest and on their terms.

Hospice care embraces a holistic approach and is delivered by an integrated care team of physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, therapists, and counselors. Additionally, specially trained volunteers are available to provide a presence for patients and their families. These volunteers often represent a welcome set of helping hands.

Another misconception is that hospice is a place. Hospice is a medical specialty, and the care team serves hospice patients wherever they call home, just as President Carter is receiving care in his home. Hospice is designed to support and empower caregivers in the home. The patient’s home may be a number of places including a house, apartment, or skilled nursing facility.

Many hospice patients and their families elect hospice services late in the patient’s healthcare journey, missing out on the many benefits of hospice care until the very end. With admission to hospice care, patients often experience what is referred to as the “hospice bump.” When the focus shifts to comfort, and care is received from a team that addresses physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, hospice patients typically report feeling better. Hospices in Iowa and across the country are familiar with families saying, “We wish we had selected hospice sooner.”

If you or a loved one is thinking hospice might be the right step, talk with your healthcare provider and research which hospice is right for you. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services offers a tool that assists with finding hospice services in your area and provides comparative data regarding hospice providers. You can find the tool at medicare.gov/care-compare/.

Hospice & Palliative Care Association of Iowa contributed to this article.

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