Understanding Hospice Care: A Comprehensive Guide for Families

By: Amanda Winstead

Facing a family member’s end-of-life is very challenging, and there are many emotions and responsibilities that families face. Fortunately, hospice care can help.

In 2020, 1.7 million Americans received hospice care. This type of care focuses on symptom management and quality of life for those with an anticipated life expectancy of six months or less, managing physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. 

If your family member is facing a terminal illness, knowing what support you can get from a hospice team can help make a difficult period much more manageable.

Hospice Principles and Services

Hospice is focused on helping terminally ill people move through the end of life with comfort and dignity. It’s not a replacement for nursing home care and isn’t focused on curative therapies or prolonging life. However, hospice care is also not designed to hasten death. Instead, it allows people to pass naturally and peacefully.

Qualifying for Hospice Care

Hospice care requires medical eligibility, such as a doctor certifying the patient has a life expectancy of six months or less or a significant decline in physical or cognitive well-being despite medical treatment.

Your family member may also qualify for hospice care at the end stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Children and teens can also receive hospice care, and the medical eligibility rules are different, so be sure to talk to a doctor about the options. 

Families don’t have to wait for a doctor to bring up hospice care — you can talk to your family member’s medical team about a hospice referral in advance so that when your loved one is eligible, hospice can be initiated.

Hospice Services

Hospice is part of end-of-life planning, and the goal is to help your loved one be as comfortable as possible during the end of their illness. During this time, you might talk to your family member about funeral plans, or you might notify other relatives so they can visit.

While hospice services cannot ethically recommend a specific funeral firm, they are able to offer neutral resources to help families manage end-of-life and funeral decisions, such as Funeralocity. Knowing the information is from an organization that doesn’t profit from your decisions can help bring you peace of mind as you navigate this difficult season.

Other services provided by hospice include a care team, medication for symptom and pain control, specific medical equipment, short-term respite care for caregivers, and grief and loss counseling for the family. 

How Much Does Hospice Cost?

Many families worry about the cost of medical care, including hospice. Fortunately, hospice care is covered under most insurance plans, including Medicare, as long as the medical eligibility has been documented.

Medicare covers all aspects of hospice care. There is no deductible, but there might be small copayments. Medicaid offers similar benefits in most states, and some patients are able to get coverage through military Tricare or VA benefits. 

Private health insurance plans also generally cover hospice care, but you’ll need to understand the details of your loved one’s specific plan to know what out-of-pocket costs to expect.

If you have the time while your loved one is in hospice, it can be helpful to pre-plan the funeral. Not only will your ill family member be able to give input, but you can save money, which can be important when dealing with a major illness.

Benefits of Hospice Care

There are many benefits of hospice care, not just for your loved one but also for the family. Your ill relative will have the care they need from experts in physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort. You can rest easy knowing they are in good hands at a hospice facility or even in their own home with hospice workers checking in.

Hospice teams also help with the family’s emotional and spiritual needs. Having a loved one near death is immensely stressful, and you may start dealing with issues like stress dreams. Dreams often reflect what you’re facing in real life, and these difficulties affect your physical and mental health. A hospice care team can help you connect to resources like therapists to help you cope with the pressure.

Another benefit of hospice care is respite, where the family caregivers can take a break while the hospice team takes care of the patient for several days. This can be a tremendous blessing to mentally or physically tired caregivers, and having time to yourself can help you focus on the healthy habits that keep you productive and strong. You can take time to work out, plan healthy meals, have quiet time for meditation or prayer, and more.

Finally, hospice provides bereavement support for the patient’s family for up to a year after the patient’s passing. Both the anticipation of loss and the actual loss are extremely emotional and stressful, and having the support you need during that time can be critical.

Ultimately, the biggest benefits of hospice care are that your family has the ability to spend quality time with your ill loved one, and the patient is able to move through the end of life according to their own wishes. 

Facing the End of Life Peacefully

With high-quality hospice care, those with terminal illnesses have the support they need to face the end of life with peace and dignity. But hospice isn’t just for patients. Families get meaningful emotional support, respite opportunities, and grief support through this difficult time as well.

If you have a loved one facing a terminal illness, ask their doctor about hospice options. A compassionate discussion could bring everyone involved peace, even in these challenging circumstances.

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. Follow her on Twitter

Back to Knowledge Center
Use zip code for more precise search results