When Should Hospice Care Begin?

Hospice care is very helpful for a person who likely has only six months to live. Historically, cancer was the most common reason to be in hospice care. But today, hospice is widely used for non-cancer patients. In fact, over 50 percent of all patients have a non-cancer diagnosis. There are many diagnoses that could result in death, and even old age and debility can be reason to be in hospice.

Some of the most common diseases we see in hospice include:

  • Dementia/Alzheimer’s disease
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Renal failure
  • Neurologic diseases like Parkinsons disease, stroke, or ALS

While medical care focuses on treatments which are sometimes aggressive, painful, or overwhelming, hospice is uniquely designed to care for people whose comfort has become more of a focus than a cure.

The cycle of decline for a patient usually triggers a combination of symptoms, possibly indicating reasons for hospice. Common symptoms which indicate a need for hospice are:

  • repeated visits to the hospital or ER
  • repeat infections
  • increased shortness of breath
  • renal changes
  • chronic dehydration
  • weight loss or significant increase in fraility
  • increase in sleep
  • skin breakdown

Hospice patients frequently outlive patients with identical problems in the hospital because hospice patients are generally more comfortable. This fact could be another reason to choose hospice.

You may call a hospice to get evaluated without a MD’s order. When possible it is recommended you discuss your concerns with the physician. If you or your loved one is already in the hospital you may ask for a palliative team to evaluate you or your loved one’s status. Many hospitals today have palliative MDs on their staff.