The decision to put a family member “on hospice” is never made lightly. If you’re reading this article because you’ve recently been put on hospice, or because your family member is struggling with a terminal illness, know that we appreciate you and we’re sorry for your loss. 

End of life care can be a challenging topic. We realize that families are coping in a terrifying time. Emotions run high, and finances run short. We’re providing this article to give you a better understanding of hospice care, and offer you with some end of life planning tools and resources. We’ll start with a definition, then get into common myths and misunderstandings.

Hospice Defined

Hospice care is a kind of skilled nursing care that will usually occur in your own home. It’s usually affordable, and is recommended by a doctor at the end stages of life. 

We think describes it well “The goal [of hospice care] is to enable patients to be comfortable and free of pain, so that they live each day as fully as possible. Aggressive methods of pain control may be used… programs [are] generally are home-based, but they sometimes provide services away from home… The philosophy of hospice is to provide support for the patient’s emotional, social, and spiritual needs as well as medical symptoms as part of treating the whole person.”

6 Common Hospice Myths & Misunderstandings

Here we’ll cover myths and rumors you may have heard about hospice.

1. Hospice care is expensive.

This is false! Hospice is usually covered 100% by Medicare, and can also be covered in whole or in part by your private insurer.

  • Per the Hospice Foundation of America, original Medicare will pay for hospice even if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Acadiana Lifestyle covers this topic too, and notes that Medicaid also offers assistance.
  • Military families have hospice coverage through Tricare.
  • Some hospice organizations get funding from other sources, like charities and churches, and are able to offer their services for very low or free prices.

2. Hospice shortens patients lives.

This is incorrect. Hospice care might actually extend a person’s life just a little. Pain is treated aggressively with morphine, which has been known to clear the lungs of some patients. We’re not saying that hospice is a cure for any disease, or that individuals will heal after being on hospice for a long time. We think clear breathing and lack of pain might encourage your family member to stay with us a little longer. 

3. Hospice means I’m dying right away.

This is not exactly true. Doctor’s won’t recommend a patient receive hospice care until they believe a patient is approaching their last six months of life. But medicine is a “practice”, doctors aren’t always right. Hospice patients have lived as long as two more years in their own home, and surrounded by their loving family.

  • Occasionally, a patient will improve significantly, and no longer require hospice. This is not a common situation, but it does happen. So one should never give up hope!

4. Hospice starves patients.

Not only is this categorically untrue, it’s sad! No hospice nurse or other medical professional would ever starve a patient to death. 

We should note here that a lack of interest in food is common in hospice patients. This can be due to their medications or their condition. They may be suffering from digestive issues, or simply have no appetite. Patients who spend much of their day in bed also use much fewer calories, so don’t be disturbed when a family member who once had a voracious appetite feels less inclined to eat. 

  • Know that during the last few weeks of life, the body starts shutting down. Patients simply don’t wish to eat. 

5. Hospice means I’ve given up on my life, or my family member’s life.

Hospice care is not for people who have given up! Rather, it’s a care plan that allows people to spend more time with their families in a comforting, home setting. The idea is to make the death experience more personal and meaningful for everyone involved, and to reduce unwanted hospital and doctor charges, when recovery is unlikely. 

6. Hospice workers and funeral homes are “in it together” or connected.

The average work day at a mortuary often includes calls from hospice nurses or patient families. It would be unethical, however, for funeral directors to offer “kick backs” or any other monetary encouragement to hospice staff for referrals. That sort of behavior is even illegal in most states!

As a family member, or hospice patient yourself, you’re welcome to ask your hospice nurse or other medical professionals for funeral home referrals. But know that no mortuary would ever offer a kickback or commission to a nurse for your business.  

Ultimately, we want you to have a good feeling about hospice. It’s an opportunity for family members to gather at home. Families can grow closer together, making meaningful memories with their loved one.