Four Reasons Why Best Hospice Benefits Come from Longer Care
Feeling drained, confused—even scared and sad—are to be expected when a loved one approaches the end of life. You might also be overwhelmed, wondering what type and level of care they need, and where and how to get it.
Hospice care was created decades ago specifically to meet this need and make the time remaining a more comfortable, even rewarding experience for both patients and families. It is a generous program, offering up to six months or more of services, support, and other benefits—typically paid for in full by Medicare—during the last stages of life. Yet too many families fail to take advantage of all it offers. And those who do often enroll their loved ones too late to reap the full benefits.
With hospice, you will have information about what to expect, plus the right care and support, letting you and your family member make the last months of life meaningful, memorable…and peaceful. Hospice helps you have a better life, at the end of life.
But as with so many things in life, timing is everything. Despite the available six-month long benefit, the median hospice stay for Americans is just over two weeks. And the average time is even shorter in communities of color. Two weeks is just too short!
Read on to find out why more time generates more of what patients and families deserve during this important time of life.
- More Time = More Comfort, Less Suffering
Hospice care is comfort care. Our holistic, patient-centered approach targets physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs to reduce pain and suffering, soothe spirits, and improve the quality of life.
A key focus is managing symptoms that can be debilitating to a patient and difficult for family members to see. Symptoms include advanced pain, nausea, insomnia, severe fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, stress, and more. Whether due to advanced illness or a side effect from earlier treatments, symptoms typically worsen as time goes on. Hospice care can help slow down that progression. At Capital Caring Health, for instance, each dedicated hospice care team includes a physician, nurses, social workers, pastoral counselors, home health aides, bereavement counselors, and volunteers. Through ongoing communication, visits, and check-in calls, interdisciplinary team members use their time to get to know the patient and family to determine the most effective management of a variety of difficult symptoms.
From using medication to address advanced pain or discontinuing no longer needed medication with serious side effects, to counseling and companionship, the result is greater comfort and a better quality of life for a longer period. Stopping or reducing suffering sooner—instead of waiting until the last two weeks of life—is a huge relief to patients and family members alike.
- More Time = More Help for Families/Caregivers
Caregiving is demanding work, but hospice decreases the burden in fundamental ways. Since many caregivers are also working a full-time job and caring for other family members, burnout is common. According to an AARP report, family caregivers report feelings of stress, depression, and isolation, along with declining physical health. Poor health may be disproportionately common for caregiving spouses in their 70s and 80s. And for their part, some patients nearing the end of life worry that they are a burden to their family caregiver. Hospice can relieve such concerns.
A longer hospice stay provides months of support and relief that families may have yearned for ever since their loved one became seriously ill. Research shows that lightening the load can reduce the risk of caregiver depression. Providing expert emotional and spiritual support during the loved one’s last days can also ease feelings of grief.
Caregiver support includes counseling, respite care, and practical help. From grocery shopping and light housekeeping to transportation and companionship—even walking the dog—the care team provides direct assistance. Aides and volunteers help around the home and with personal care, while staff coordinates supply and medical equipment delivery and pharmacy services.
Hospice can also provide financial assistance and identify and arrange community resources for additional respite care and other help as needed, freeing family members from doing the research and legwork themselves.
- More Time = More Room for What Matters
With the right care and support—especially over months, not weeks—patients and families are better able to focus on quality of life in the time remaining. Your hospice team will have a “goals of care” conversation to find out priorities including what you’d like to accomplish. That might include visits from family and friends, pursuing a favorite or new pastime, attending a wedding or graduation, or celebrating an important event such as an anniversary.
Two weeks or less of end-of-life care doesn’t permit such pursuits. By this stage, a patient is likely much sicker, and the caregiver may lack extra time or energy. With a longer hospice stay, there’s also continuity of care—as opposed to constant emergency room visits—that alleviates stress for patients and families, making time together more predictable and enjoyable. The longer a loved one is in hospice care, with an extended focus on comfort and emotional well-being, the longer that loved one and family members can find and use time for what matters most to them.
Indeed, in a study of hospice care benefits for lung and colorectal cancer patients, family interviews revealed that longer hospice stays—especially over 30 days—were associated with perceptions that patients had higher rates of end-of-life wish fulfillment, along with just the right amount of pain medication, and higher rates of excellent quality of end-of-life care, compared with short stays.
- More Time = A Better Life at the End-of-Life
Enrolling in hospice care early helps patients live better and live longer. Hospice patients experience a much longer period of relief from pain and other debilitating symptoms, along with ongoing emotional and spiritual support, resulting in increased comfort and decreased suffering. Plus, being at home, spending time with family and friends, and being able to talk to a social worker or chaplain may just make tomorrow look brighter.
All this attention, care, and compassion helps hospice patients feel better. And sometimes, patients even live longer. In one study, patients with congestive heart failure and certain cancers lived an average of 29 days longer than expected. Moreover, a 2018 study by cardiologists found that patients with advanced heart failure in hospice care were more likely to live longer; have fewer emergency room visits, hospital, and ICU days; and are less likely to die in the hospital. In these studies, the mean hospice stay was longer than two weeks.
At an otherwise uncertain time, hospice patients gain a sense of greater control over their last months, have their wishes respected, and maintain their dignity. With the right care and support, patients and families can experience a better quality of life with time to focus on what matters and to live their values with peace of mind.
To quote Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the first modern hospice: “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.”
For more information, view our online resources or watch this video on how to know it is time for hospice and learn about applying for care here. For all questions and information about our services and support, call our care line 24 hours a day at 800-737-2508.