The time to begin hospice care is a difficult and personal choice. Hospice care often involves an individual or family choosing to decline receiving further treatments that might cure an individual and instead begin focusing on making a person comfortable and as pain-free as possible. The right time to start hospice care is something only a family and an individual can determine. Although doctors and health-care professionals might give advice, the decision is ultimately not up to them.
Although people often put off hospice care until the final few weeks or days of care, there are advantages that can be gained from using hospice care earlier.
For example, a patient who enters hospice care earlier has the opportunity to make use of the pain and symptom management practices that hospice care can offer.
Similarly, a family that chooses hospice care for a loved one is able to transfer some of the responsibility for day-to-day care to the hospice team instead of doing it themselves. This allows the family to focus more on enjoying time with the patient than on caring for the patient.
This does not mean that you cannot do some of the things to care for a loved one that you have previously done. If you and the hospice patient have a certain activity or exercise that you do to bond, there are things that can still be done together. Simply let the hospice care team know what these activities are. Comfort is at the core of hospice care. Hospice care teams will work to make sure that both families and patients are comfortable with the delegation of duties.
An earlier decision to elect for hospice care can also be advantageous because it allows the family and the patient more time to become comfortable with a hospice care worker. The better a family and a patient knows a hospice care worker, the more comfortable the patient will be when he ultimately reaches his final few days. Having this initial relationship is also advantageous because everybody is more comfortable with one another when more intimate and intensive care is needed from the hospice staff.
In general, there is a six-month rule for people to use hospice care. This rule states that those who are terminally ill and are expected to live for six months or less are welcomed into hospices. One of the main reasons for the six-month rule is because Medicare has set this as a timetable for which it and other insurers cover hospice care.
There are situations when a person’s condition starts to deteriorate quickly in which people can be allowed into hospice programs more quickly. Once a person is admitted into hospice, he can stay until the time of death–even if death ultimately doesn’t come until years after being admitted. Patients who get better while in hospice can leave hospice care if they choose.