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Senior Resources » Hospice Care » How Long Can Someone Be in Hospice?

How Long Can Someone Be in Hospice?

hospice hands

For many people, “hospice care” may as well be a synonym for “end of the road.” It’s not hard to see why. After all, hospice care is provided when a patient has a life expectancy of six months or less. So, does that mean that hospice has a time limit of six months? Are there circumstances that allow for patients to continue hospice care past that point—or even to go off it completely? If you or a loved one have questions about hospice, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to find out more.

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What Is Hospice Care?

hospice volunteer

Hospice care is a specialized form of healthcare that focuses on providing compassionate and supportive care to individuals facing a terminal illness. The primary goals of hospice care are to enhance the quality of life for patients, manage symptoms, and offer emotional and spiritual support to both the patient and their family.

When curative treatments are no longer effective or desired, hospice enters the conversation. The decision to enter hospice is voluntary, and patients may receive hospice support for as long as their condition meets the eligibility criteria. Individuals receive a personalized care plan tailored to their unique needs and wishes.

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What Services Does Hospice Offer?

nurse sitting on bed ith hospice patient

Hospice care provides a range of services to support individuals and their families during the final stages of life. Below are some common services that hospice care teams provide.

Pain and Symptom Management

Hospice focuses on relieving pain and managing symptoms associated with the terminal illness. This includes medications, therapies, and other interventions to enhance comfort.

Emotional and Spiritual Support

Hospice offers counseling, emotional support, and spiritual care to both the patient and their family. This may involve chaplain services, counseling sessions, and support groups.

Life Review and Legacy Building

Hospice may assist patients in reflecting on their life, achievements, and relationships, offering opportunities for life review and legacy building.

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Volunteer Support

Trained volunteers may offer companionship, run errands, and provide respite care to give family caregivers a break.

Bereavement Support

Hospice care extends beyond the patient’s passing, offering bereavement support and counseling for family members. This may include individual or group sessions.

Therapy

Physical, occupational, and other therapies may be included in the care plan to address specific needs, improve mobility, and enhance overall well-being.

Assistance with Daily Living

Hospice care assists with activities of daily living, ensuring that the patient is comfortable and supported in their home or chosen setting.

Coordination of Care

Hospice involves coordination among team members to ensure seamless and comprehensive care. Regular team meetings are held to discuss and adjust the care plan.

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Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)

CNAs provide personal care assistance to patients, including help with bathing, grooming, and other activities of daily living.

Is Hospice Only for the Last Few Days of Life?

patient in bed with nurse at her side

Hospice care is not exclusively for the last few days of life. While hospice care is often associated with end-of-life care, it can be initiated when a patient is expected to live six months or less. Individuals may receive hospice care for an extended period. Duration can vary based on the progression of the illness and the individual’s response to care.

Hospice eligibility is regularly reassessed by the hospice team. If the patient’s condition stabilizes or improves, they may be reevaluated for continued eligibility. In cases where a patient has lived past six months, a physician must recertify their condition (according to Enhabit: Home Health & Hospice).

Can Patients Go Off Hospice?

hugging and smiling woman with senior mom

Patients can go off hospice care if their health condition stabilizes or improves. The decision to go off hospice isn’t handled alone. Instead, patients decide through a collaborative process involving their family, physician, and the hospice team. Here are several scenarios in which hospice care may no longer be necessary.

Improved Health

If there is evidence that the patient’s prognosis extends beyond six months, or if the patient’s health has improved such that the terminal nature of their illness is uncertain, they may no longer meet the criteria for hospice care.

Desire for Curative Treatments

If the patient expresses a desire to pursue curative treatments, they may choose to transition away from hospice care.

Transition to Other Forms of Care

If hospice care is no longer the most appropriate form of care, the patient may transition to other types of care. This may include palliative care or, in some cases, a return to curative treatments.

Regular Reassessment

The hospice team makes regular reassessments. Ongoing assessments help determine whether the patient continues to meet the criteria for hospice care.

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The decision to discontinue hospice is individualized, and the patient’s well-being and preferences are central to the process. The hospice team works closely with the patient and their family to provide ongoing support. Additionally, it’s their job to adjust the care plan based on the changing needs and conditions of the patient. The goal is that the patient receives care that aligns with their current health status and goals of care.

Does Hospice Mean You’re Giving Up?

senior adult lying in hospital bed with iv in right hand and younger family member holding hand

Choosing hospice care does not mean that someone is giving up, or that death is imminent. Although hospice is associated with the end of someone’s life, it doesn’t mean someone is giving up. Rather, the main goal of hospice is to make someone comfortable and to maintain their quality of life in the face of a terminal illness. This compassionate, patient-centric approach to care emphasizes dignity, respect, and the individual’s preferences.

Choosing hospice is not about giving up hope; rather, it’s about embracing a different kind of hope—one that focuses on the comfort, dignity, and meaningful experiences of the individual in their final stages of life. It allows individuals to have control over their care decisions and to approach the end of life with autonomy and choice.

More Help with Hospice

hospice care illustration, words with mint green background and clipart depicting things like wheelchairs and nursing care

Understanding hospice can help individuals make informed decisions about end-of-life care and better navigate the hospice experience. A loved one nearing the end of life deserves the best care possible, so make sure that you do your research and choose the right hospice care program for you.

For more help and info, check out these great resources:

Medicare.gov – Hospice Care

CMS.gov

World Health Organization – Palliative Care

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Originally published February 14, 2024

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