I have been a hospice worker, first as a nurse and then as a social worker, for over 20 years now, so of course hospice care is dear to my heart. I have witnessed first-hand how much help and support we provide to people and their loved ones, in the last months, weeks and days of their lives. We don’t come in and tell people what to do, but rather listen to how they want to live, in whatever time they have left, and work with them to have the best days possible. Hospice has been around for decades, yet I am still surprised with how much misinformation there is about it. The three major myths are addressed below.
Myth#1: People who go on hospice are days from dying.
People can start hospice months before they die, while they are still active. Some of our patients are even working and traveling. They have decided they no longer want curative treatment and want to focus on quality of life, and their doctors’ feel they are in the last 6 months or so of their lives. We have had patients for more than 6 months, some even for more than a year. They choose to have hospice care to help them with symptom control and to guide them and their loved-ones through the end of life process. The hospice team members include nurses, social workers, home health aides, spiritual counselors and volunteers.
Myth#2: Hospice is a place people go to die.
Though there are inpatient hospices in some areas where people can go when they are close to dying, most hospice care is provided in people’s homes, where the majority of people want to be when they die. Hospice care can also be provided in assisted living facilities, adult foster homes, and even in nursing homes, if that is where the patient is living.
Myth#3: Hospice gives people lots of morphine and hastens their deaths.
It’s true that morphine is used frequently in hospice care, but it is used for symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath, not to hasten death. Hospice believes no one should suffer and has many tools to relieve physical, as well as emotional and spiritual pain. There have been studies done that have shown that hospice care actually prolongs life in some cases, because people have better qualities of life due to good symptom management and support from hospice.
It so important for people to have accurate information about hospice. We still get too many people far too late, when we could have been helping them sooner. I hear from patients and families how they wish they had known more about hospice so they could have gotten us involved earlier. For more information, go to National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.