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Column: Hospice care includes many non-cancer diagnoses

By Jennifer Black, Compassionate Care Hospice

Welcome to the 10th in a series of articles that exposes common myths and misconceptions surrounding hospice care.  The goal of this series is to set the record straight by addressing these myths with honesty and integrity. Our hope is that the education provided here will lead to families and caregivers having the necessary information to engage in open conversations with their loved ones about end of life care.

Myth #10: “Hospice is only for people who have cancer” and “Hospice is only for the last days of life”.

Hospice care is for those who have a terminal or life-limiting illness and are no longer seeking aggressive curative treatments. When hospice was first introduced in this country, it was primarily utilized by cancer patients in the final days of life. That is no longer the case.  

Over the years the Medicare Hospice Benefit has evolved to include many other non-cancer diagnosis’ such as, but not limited to, dementia, cardiac disease, pulmonary disease, any organ failure, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s, and CVA or stroke. If there is a question as to whether or not someone would meet diagnosis criteria, they could contact their hospice of choice or talk to their physician.

Another common myth often heard is that “Hospice is only for the last days of life.” Hospice is often not elected until the last days or hours of life. Many do not know that hospice may begin sooner. An order for hospice to assess and admit is required; and the physician must feel to the best of their knowledge that if the patient’s illness were to run the normal course they may have six months or less to live. By starting hospice sooner rather than later, the patient and family have the opportunity to benefit fully from all the services hospice can offer. Some of the services that are available but often are not utilized due to late admissions include social services, volunteers, aide services, chaplain and bereavement. All of these services are available and intended to provide support for the patient and family during a difficult time. We often hear from families that they wished they had started hospice sooner.  

Come back next month for Myth #11: “I will have to stop taking all of my medications if I come onto hospice” and “I will not have the same nurse from week to week."

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