"You matter because of who you are. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can , not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die."
--Dame Cicely Saunders
What is hospice care?
In its earliest days, the concept of hospice was rooted in the centuries-old idea of offering a place of shelter and rest, or "hospitality" to weary and sick travelers on a long journey. In 1967, Dame Cicely Saunders at St. Christopher's Hospice in London first used the term "hospice" to describe specialized care for dying patients. Today, hospice care provides humane and compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.
Hospice is a philosophy of care. The hospice philosophy or viewpoint accepts death as the final stage of life. The goal of hospice is to help patients live their last days as alert and pain-free as possible. Hospice care tries to manage symptoms so that a person's last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice care treats the person rather than the disease; it focuses on quality rather than length of life. Hospice care is family-centered -- it includes the patient and the family in making decisions.
This care is planned to cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hospice care can be given in the patient's home, a hospital, nursing home, or private hospice facility. Most hospice care in the United States is given in the home, with family members or friends serving as the main hands-on caregivers. Because of this, a patient getting home hospice care must have a caregiver in the home with them 24 hours a day.
Hospice care is used when you can no longer be helped by curative treatment, and you are expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its usual course. Hospice gives you palliative care, which is treatment to help relieve disease-related symptoms, but not cure the disease; its main purpose is to improve your quality of life. You, your family, and your doctor decide together when hospice care should begin.
One of the problems with hospice is that it is often not started soon enough. Sometimes the doctor, patient, or family member will resist hospice because he or she thinks it means you're "giving up", or that there's no hope. This is not true. If you get better or the cancer goes into remission, you can be taken out of the hospice program and go into active cancer treatment. You can go back to hospice care later, if needed. But the hope that hospice brings is the hope of a quality life, making the best of each day during the last stages of advanced illness.
Last Medical Review: 03/18/2011
Last Revised: 03/18/2011