It all starts with a frank patient/doctor discussion. “When you know I can’t be cured, tell me as soon as possible so I can consider hospice”.
Then there is the irony. Some patients flourish while on hospice and end up being discharged because they are doing so well.
“The biggest misconception about hospice care”, says Robin Vicklund, Regional Hospice and Home Care Director of Nursing, “is that it’s about death. It’s not. It’s about living. It’s about staying connected to your loved ones and the world around you, and getting the most out of every single second you have.”
Many people who come into hospice losing basic functions, losing weight or suffering from bedsores thrive from the expertise and attention they receive from hospice nurses, aides and other members of the team.
The decision to go on hospice care has proven through numerous studies to help patients live longer and more comfortably.
According to Dr. James S. Boal, the majority of hospice patients benefit from a slightly longer life. In a 2007 study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Medicare patients with congestive heart failure, and those who had cancers of the lung, colon, breast, pancreas and prostate lived an average of 29 days longer that those continuing active treatment. A more recent study in the August 2010 New England Journal of Medicine found that patients with non-small cell lung cancer who were receiving palliative care lived an average of two months longer than patients seeking standard treatment.
In addition to living longer, those on hospice have a higher quality of life in the time they have left. The ravages of curative therapy stop, they are free from the stress of frequent hospital admissions, free from the side effects of medication, they are no longer exposed to the germs in the hospital, and their pain and symptoms are micromanaged to prevent invasive hospital therapies the would increase stress on bodily organs.
That leap of faith – as both Dr. Boal and Nurse Care Practitioner Marianne Potter discussed recently in a December 2, 2012 Livonia Observer article, “Choosing Hospice Improves Final Days”, is that it can be hard to know when to stop seeking a cure. However, if little is gained with more treatment and therapy causes a great deal of stress, hospice might be the better choice for living longer with more meaning and support.