Understanding Hospice: A Source of Care, Information and Comfort

**This guest blog was written and submitted by Lucille Rosetti from The Bereaved.**

Hospice is an increasingly popular option among individuals who have no further viable curative options. And yet many people misunderstand hospice care and the services it provides. Helping a loved one choose hospice is a way for them to spend their remaining time in comfort and dignity. If you’re considering hospice and are unsure whether it’s right for your loved one, read on for more information. And if you’re looking for a hospice in your area, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides an online hospice directory.

Quality of Life

Hospice is dedicated to providing the highest possible quality of life regardless of the patient’s condition. People who enter hospice can expect that pain management and personal dignity will always be priorities. Clients live as comfortably as possible in a setting of their choice, spending their remaining time in the company of loved ones. Hospice professionals also help families work through the challenges and psychological difficulties of caring for a dying family member. It’s a practical care service and an important source of emotional (and spiritual) support for everyone involved.

A Collaborative Effort

Hospice is a collaborative effort that involves both patient and family. As soon as a doctor refers the patient to hospice care, the hospice team begins working closely with the patient and loved ones to design a care plan attuned to the patient’s needs. Family members play an integral role in a situation that may involve a nurse, hospice or primary care physician, home health aide, social worker and spiritual leader. In that sense, hospice care is a true team effort.

Getting Familiar with the Hospice Team

Because family members work so closely with the hospice team, they get to know care professionals and often develop trusting relationships that are valuable at such a difficult time. The hospice social worker in particular plays a key role, providing counseling and information that helps loved ones better understand the dying process. Social workers complete a master’s program at an accredited university, many of which offer programs online, and perform up to 1,200 hours of field work to get the experience they need to provide the best level of care for patients.

The Care Setting

Care is often provided in the patient’s home, where quality of life is easier to maintain. However, hospice can become involved in a number of locations including hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Whatever the environment, the goal remains the same: to provide whatever services are needed to ease the patient’s transition.


Concerns over payment are understandable, however, rest assured that hospice is covered by both HMOs and private insurance, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Hospice organizations will sometimes provide payment assistance for clients who lack insurance.

The Final Hours

The hospice team stays involved as the body begins the natural process of shutting down essential functions. The digestive system is typically the first to cease functioning, anticipating that the body has no further need for nutrients as death approaches. As appetite and thirst diminish, other functions cease, including bowel movements and urination. Loss of consciousness follows, though hearing and touch remain active until near the end. Unless loved ones are too uncomfortable to be present, they are encouraged to remain to help ease their relative’s passing, provide support for each other, and find closure together.

Keeping a Loved One Comfortable

Family members may need to employ many different approaches to keep a dying loved one comfortable. Ice chips or a sponge can help keep the mouth moist and prevent chapping, while pads and a catheter may be necessary if incontinence becomes a problem. As their condition worsens, breathing may become labored – turn their head to one side and keep pillows beneath the head to help make breathing easier.

Hospice care is a group effort involving the care team, family members, and medical personnel. The objective is always to make the patient comfortable, to address final wishes, answer questions, and support loved ones. Hospice helps family members process their grief and begin the healing process.