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Former President Jimmy Carter has now been in hospice for a year. This is remarkable news because of the many myths surrounding what hospice can do for those who need it.

The average enrollment for hospice patients is around three months, with the median being just 18 days, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, or NHPCO. Former President Carter’s experience is certainly outside the norm, and it should highlight the program’s unexpected possibilities.

We might often associate famous people and celebrities with various marketable services, products, and charity organizations. It’s exciting to think about Matthew convincing us to buy a Lincoln, but when it comes to a service like hospice, it doesn’t matter who uses it; no one wants it. Most people don’t even want to know about it.

Because hospice holds such a stigma, most of us forgo learning about it until it hits home for ourselves or someone we love. For those living with conditions like heart disease, lung disease, dementia, and stroke, a definitive idea of how long you might have to live and how you will feel is unknown.

Those common diagnoses could qualify someone for hospice care.  Hospice care can help people live more meaningful and comfortable days at the end of their lives, but if no one wants to learn about it, the less and less it will be used.

Who Wants to Know?

Many of us scroll over stories and avoid movies where the beloved leading character dies in the end—especially if the character is a beloved pooch! Just like we don’t willingly go out and subject ourselves to a touching story of a dog passing away, we also don’t sign up voluntarily to learn about hospice.

Hospice is a Medicare benefit. We pay into Medicare throughout our working years, and if we need a mobility device or other benefit, we don’t usually bat an eye. However, many don’t often use the support available from hospice because it’s such a loaded word.

The idea that we need to say goodbye, receive proper care and pain management, and make sure our families will be ok feels like looking up to a mountaintop. It’s simply a lot to fathom. Even if we’re diagnosed with a terminal condition, it might be hard to want to learn about hospice, too.

Hospice can be such a fantastic support. If someone is given a bleak prognosis that they never hoped to hear, and things are spinning out of control, hospice can allow patients to have some control.

What are the Goals of Hospice?

  • To keep patients pain-free but alert
  • To ensure patients can choose how they wish to pass (e.g., surrounded by loved ones, with music, pets, and favorite things nearby).
  • To provide support for the patient AND their family/loved ones (hospice will assist loved ones with bereavement support and resources for up to 13 months after a patient passes away

We’ve reviewed hospice myths many times to help people better understand what it can do; however, it’s still underutilized. We’re working to raise awareness about it early before it’s needed or earlier during an illness so that people can consider their options when it feels like there are none.

How Long Can Someone Qualify?

There is no simple answer to this, but we want to spread the word so folks use hospice sooner because the median hospice enrollment is around three weeks. CaringEdge once served a patient in their hospice program for over eight years!

To qualify, a prognosis of passing away within six months or less is required for enrollment. Physicians determine who qualifies to enroll based on the regulations, and they will re-evaluate someone’s condition every six months to decide whether they still qualify.

It’s possible to qualify for hospice for years, and on some rare occasions, people improve and no longer qualify for the program for certain periods. Patients can also choose to discontinue hospice if a new treatment becomes available or if they wish to continue treating their illness.

What Can Hospice Staff Teach Us?

Hospice teams understand the importance of having quality days at the end of life. When the uncertainty causes anxiety and fear, hospice staff can make each day the best it can be.  Through volunteers, medications, and talking, they can help ease the anxiety that comes with a terminal illness.

Those working in hospice have been through the dying process repeatedly, and they can bring their expert-level patience and consideration right where it’s needed. Not only can they educate patients on the process, but they can also educate loved ones who may be about to navigate a significant loss for the first time.

Hospice teams can also offer peace of mind that once a patient passes away, their loved ones will have access to resources and support. Sometimes, that’s exactly what a patient needs to calm their anxiety at the end of their illness.

If you want to learn more about hospice services through CaringEdge, please get in touch with us at info@caringedge.com.