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When To Call Hospice For Elderly Care

An older woman sitting quietly in her room.

I know – the word “hospice” conjures up thoughts of death and final days, etc. But honestly, hospice is so much more than that.

If you are struggling to care for an elderly parent or senior loved one – then please put those ideas away for the moment and read about how hospice can help YOU and your elderly loved one.

When to call hospice for elderly care? – Hospice should be called in when an elderly loved one’s health and ability to perform tasks is declining. It does not mean that they are going to pass away in the next few days (as most people think). Hospice can care for their patients for years as long as they continue to show decline when they are re-evaluated.

My Family’s Story With Hospice

My mother was very physically independent, showed no signs of cognitive decline but she was extremely anxious.

As a result, every cough, every little ache that she had would cause her to go into a panic and call my sister to take her to the hospital.

Needless to say, my poor sister had multiple 2 am phone calls and drives to the hospital emergency room. In her last 2 years of life my mother was admitted to 3 different hospitals 8 times – basically for panic attacks.

This, of course, put a great deal of stress and strain on our family (especially my sister) who had her own family to care for as well as a full time job.

Anyone who is or has been a primary caregiver of an elderly loved one understands this!

We weren’t getting much help (none really) from the doctors in the hospital or the staff as to what we could do to help our mother, which was frustrating to say the least.

A dear friend of mine, who worked as a social worker in hospice for 25 plus years, mentioned to me that we could ask for a hospice evaluation. This would at least give us a clear picture of all the doctors evaluations that my mother had.

The hospital doctor was against it, but we pushed for it anyway. We are all so very glad that we did. Because to our surprise, my mom qualified for hospice.

The reason was that she had a diagnosis that was terminal (which she withheld from us) and her disease was progressing.

So, even though outwardly she seemed fine to everyone who saw her – her body was beginning to decline due to her disease. Without hospice we would have never known that.

How Hospice Helped Us

The help that we got from hospice was immense. Let me just give you a short list of the most important ways that they helped.

  • They provided us with the emotional support we needed to help our mother when she would go into her panic states.
  • They came whenever we called them to help with any medications or other issues.
  • They provided us with oxygen and adaptive equipment (shower chairs, hospital bed, etc.) as my mother’s illness progressed.
  • They were only a phone call away, 24 hours a day, with any question we had about the disease, about medication or just for support.
  • Their physician was on call to come visit my mother when she felt she needed to see a doctor.

All in all, I simply cannot say enough about how wonderful hospice was for us.

When Should An Elderly Person Be In Hospice?

If you are caring for aging parents, it can be difficult to know when is the right time to call hospice.

It’s been my experience that most family members are simply not aware of all the hospice services that are available to help care for their loved ones.

The truth of the matter is that the great majority of families do not take advantage of all the wonderful benefits that are available to them via hospice programs.

Curative treatment is not the focus of hospice care, which instead provides comfort and support to those near the end of their life.

This does not mean that they are going to die in the next day or so, necessarily. It simply means that the medical condition they have is terminal.

The common misconception about when it’s time to enter hospice is when the person is literally in their death bed with what seems to be a day or two left on this planet.

But oh, what a great misconception that is!

Hospice provides not only end of life care, but also a plan of care for those who are living with a life-threatening illness. Hospice can provide great symptom management for those in their care.

The truth of the matter is that the services that hospice could provide to the elderly person AND their caregivers are so much more.

Hospice patients can receive care in their own homes, but they may also reside in hospice facilities.

So, when should an elderly person be in hospice? – In my opinion, as soon as your elderly parent is in need of a caregiver – a call to hospice for an evaluation might save you a lot of time and headaches down the road.

Read about the Pros And Cons Of Hospice.

When Should You Contact Hospice?

Amedisys Hospice has a wonderful short quiz that you can take to determine whether or not it’s “time” to call hospice.

The questions in that quiz are…

  1. Been hospitalized or gone to ER several times in past 6 months?
  2. Been making more frequent phone calls to your physicians?
  3. Started taking medication to lessen physical pain?
  4. Started spending most of the day in a chair or bed?
  5. Fallen several times over the past 6 months?
  6. Started needing help with one or more of the following?
    (bathing, dressing, eating, getting out of bed, walking)
  7. Started feeling weaker or more tired?
  8. Experienced weight loss making clothes noticeably looser?
  9. Noticed a shortness of breath, even while resting?
  10. Been told by a doctor that life expectancy is limited?

As you can see – many older adults will be able to say “yes” to many of these.

My own mother would have been able to say “yes” to 6 of these (although honestly, she may have not admitted it!)

If your elderly loved one can say “yes” to any of these, I would encourage you to contact your local hospice provider and ask them for more information on their services and how they may be able to help you.

NOTE: Hospice does have certain criteria that must be met before for admitting someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

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