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When To Call Hospice For Elderly Care

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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 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 understands this!

After speaking to a dear friend who worked as a social worker in hospice for 25 plus years – we decided to ask the hospital doctor for a hospice evaluation. He was against it. We pushed for it anyway and to our surprise, my mom qualified for hospice.

The reason was that she had a diagnosis that was terminal (which we were unaware of) and her disease was progressing. What we learned was that each individual hospice care plan is designed to meet the specific needs of the patient and their family.

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

Family members are an important part of hospice care and their involvement can make all the difference for the patient. At the end of the day, hospice services can provide a lot of comfort to elderly patients and their families.

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.

How Long Can Palliative Care Last?

Hospice care teams are trained to provide the utmost in palliative care and comfort to the elderly. They can provide valuable support to families during a very difficult time.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

What I believe many families don’t understand is that palliative care can be provided for years which can be a blessing for many elders and their families if they are dealing with an illness that can last that long.

Palliative care can be provided to patients that don’t necessarily have a terminal illness. It can be administered at the start when someone is diagnosed. Of course, speak to the hospice team at your local Hospice program.

Read our article, Does Hospice Take Your Assets?

What Is The Difference Between Comfort Care And Hospice?

The type of treatment that hospice provides is considered to be “comfort care”. Most people associate hospice with palliative care – but you should know the difference between these two terms.

Where palliative care can begin at the onset of the diagnosis and be provided throughout treatment – comfort care begins when there is no longer any treatment available.

In other words – when the elderly person or the medical physician stops any treatment for an illness – then comfort care begins.

As far as the details of what type of service is provided with each service – there really isn’t much difference. The biggest difference comes in the type of medical treatments and medications.

Does Hospice Hasten Death?

Absolutely not.

When my mother passed away, she was on hospice and she was taking small doses of morphine to help her breathe and for pain relief. That worked very well for her – it also helped to greatly reduce her anxiety that she had been battling for years.

I remember that someone said to me “So, you killed her.” They said that because we were giving her the morphine. I replied by saying “No, that morphine helped her to breath – otherwise she was gasping for air even while she was on oxygen so no, we did not kill her.

People say the strangest and most ignorant things when someone dies!

The purpose of hospice is not to bring on death sooner than it would have. The purpose of hospice is to keep the person as comfortable and pain free as possible UNTIL they pass away.

The purpose of hospice care is to maximize the quality of life for people in the last phases of a disease that cannot be cured.

In fact, there are studies that show that people actually live longer when under Hospice care.

The 13 Benefits Of Hospice For Caregivers

Here is my list of the 13 great hospice benefits that they can offer for caregivers of their elderly loved ones.

  1. An assessment by hospice is free.
  2. You can go in and out of hospice – just because you sign up with hospice does not mean you are stuck there for a length of time.
  3. Hospice re-evaluates you for the program every few months. My mother’s hospice nurse told us she has had patients under her care for up to 3 years.
  4. Most hospice programs have volunteers – these volunteers are there to help give YOU the respite care you need.
  5. You have access to a nurse 24/7. So, if your elderly parent is ill during the night and you’re not sure what to do – you can simply call your contact number and you will be connected to a nurse on call who can help you.
  6. Many hospices also provide home health aides to your private home to help with caregiving duties.
  7. Even if your senior is living in a skilled nursing facility they can still get access to hospice services.
  8. Medications and medical equipment are delivered to your door as you need them. Now – not ALL medications are covered. Hospice does not generally cover medications that are not related to the illness that qualified that patient for hospice in the first place.
  9. Emotional support by clergy, nurses and social workers are available to both the patient and the caregiver.
  10. Hospice can provide not only physical and emotional support, but also spiritual support.
  11. There are aides available who can provide services like bathing your loved one which for some caregivers who are taking care of elderly who are bed bound can be a very helpful service.
  12. Some hospice programs now offer telehealth services in addition to in home visitations which can be a great comfort to not only the patient but the family caregivers as well.
  13. If you are struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one, hospice can provide you with a bereavement counselor to help you through the grieving process.

The hospice team will work with you and your loved ones to determine the level of care that is needed.

Although end of life care is an important aspect of hospice care, it is not the only focus. Hospice care can provide support for patients and families through the entire course of a terminal illness, not just in the last days or weeks.

And many hospice programs continue to provide support for the family members after their loved one has passed away. Hospice can provide a great opportunity for families to spend quality time together during a very difficult time. So take advantage of all the great services that they offer.

If you are providing personal care for a hospice patient, you may find these books helpful.

A beautifully written book that can help you through the journey of a hospice program.

A must have for anyone considering volunteering with Hospice but also for caregivers who are working with hospice to care for their senior loved ones.