If you or a loved one are facing serious health challenges and have been given a terminal diagnosis, you may consider hospice care for support. Your healthcare provider may have even recommended that you be referred for hospice services. But how do you know that it’s time for hospice? Making this decision can be overwhelming, but there are some key signs that can help you know if you should seek hospice treatment.
Hospice: The Basics
To understand these signs, it’s important to first know what hospice is, and how it works.
Hospice care is supportive care for people who have a terminal diagnosis. It focuses on the comfort and quality of life for patients whose physician has certified they have a life expectancy of six months or less. Patients who choose hospice have decided to decline further aggressive treatment to cure their illness. Instead, they can receive nursing care, hospice aide care, medical social worker and chaplain services, bereavement support and other services from an interdisciplinary team of healthcare providers.
This care is provided wherever the patient calls home - whether their residence, a family member’s home, a nursing facility or other location. It can also be provided in the hospital or at an inpatient hospice facility depending on the circumstances.
Seven Signs it’s Time for Hospice
People who choose hospice earlier in their terminal diagnosis often report higher satisfaction with their treatment. These are some signs that it’s time to consider hospice care:
1. Your doctor has told you they believe your life expectancy is six months or less
This is a basic requirement to be enrolled in hospice care. As long as you continue to meet the eligibility requirements, hospice can continue to provide care until the end of life.
2. Your health is worsening rapidly
Frequent trips to the hospital or doctor’s office because of complications related to your terminal illness can be a sign that hospice support is appropriate. This is especially true if worsening symptoms of your illness like shortness of breath, pain or nausea are affecting your quality of life.
3. You don’t feel like eating or drinking
You may have decreased appetite, pain or nausea that is interfering with your ability to eat and drink. This is often a big worry for family members, who may be anxiously encouraging intake of food and water With many terminal illnesses, it is normal for the body to have a decreased need for nutrients, and lack of appetite is a common symptom. Rapid weight loss may also occur.
4. The number of hours you’re sleeping has increased
An increase in the amount of time sleeping throughout both the day and night is another key sign that is commonly observed with a terminal illness. This can include increased sleepiness and inactivity even while awake.
5. There have been noticeable behavior changes
If family has noticed behaviors that are out of character and expressed concern, take note. This can include increasing problems with mental clarity, confusion and forgetfulness, or even just irritability or restlessness. Communication may become challenging.
6. You’re having trouble with self-care activities
Known as activities of daily living, self-care activities include tasks like feeding oneself, using the bathroom, bathing and dressing independently. If an otherwise independent person rapidly requires hands-on assistance with these tasks, it can be a sign that hospice support would help.
7. Caretakers and loved ones are overwhelmed
One of the most important support systems a person can have at the end of life is family, friends and other caretakers. Hospice care is designed to support everyone involved in a patient’s life, not just the person with the terminal diagnosis. If your loved ones are feeling unable to manage your care in a way that gives you comfort and quality of life, hospice can help.
I think it’s time for hospice, now what?
If this list has helped confirm your belief that it might be time for hospice care, the first step is to have an open conversation with your family and other loved ones. Sometimes this is easier with the support of your healthcare provider, who can help explain your options and whether further treatment is improving your quality of life and meeting your goals.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should choose hospice now or down the road. It is a very personal decision. It’s also important to know that if you do choose hospice, you can change your mind at any point, if you decide you would like to pursue further curative treatment of your illness.
How to find the right hospice care
Insurance coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, fully covers hospice if you have been certified as eligible by a physician. Private insurance carriers will need to contact the insurance company to discuss coverage for hospice care. Medicare-certified providers offer four levels of hospice care depending on your needs and will work with you to arrange the best approach to your care to improve your quality of life. Ready to learn more? You can fill out our form below and an Amedisys hospice specialist will help guide through our programs, including specialty services based on your unique needs.