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Weekly Tips & Insights

When is hospice needed?

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

The decision to enter into hospice care is often difficult for caregivers trying to get the best support for their loved ones and themselves, but there are often signs that it is time to make the transition. With the help of physicians and their own discernment based on a loved one’s condition, caregivers should be confident in their decision. Here are some of the most common questions about when it is the right time to start end-of-life care:

What is hospice care?

Hospice care is end-of-life medical and emotional care for patients faced with terminal illnesses along with help and support for their caregivers.

When is hospice needed?

There are many signs that a caregiver should seek out end-of-life care for their loved one, the most obvious of which is if a physician makes the suggestion. Caregivers can also make the call if care becomes increasingly time consuming for them, their loved one’s pain is out of control or there are clear signs of disease progression that point toward death. That being said, most chronic illnesses become worse and will lead to death. Surprisingly, most patients have a feeling that they are going to die. They will often feel uncomfortable or be unable to sleep or eat. These are all signs hospice care may be necessary.

Who qualifies for hospice care?

To qualify for hospice care, a hospice care doctor or your primary care physician must certify that you’re terminally ill, meaning you have a life expectancy of six months or less. When you agree to hospice care, you’re agreeing to comfort care instead of care to cure your illness.

What are the most common illnesses seen among hospice care patients?

The most common illness the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) comes across is dementia, but they also see a wide variety of patients with heart disease, kidney disease, cancer and neurological disorders.

What are signs a dementia patient should begin hospice care?

Apart from the signs mentioned earlier, caregivers should consider end-of-life care for their loved one with dementia when they can no longer walk, say more than six words at a time, smile or use the bathroom.

What are signs a cancer patient should begin hospice care?

Caregivers with loved ones who have cancer should seek out hospice when the patient’s oncologist has exhausted treatment options or the patient is exhausted from the treatments to the point where it is affecting their quality of life.

What do patients receive while in hospice care?

While under hospice care from VNA, patients receive:

  • ​A specially trained staff to deal with the symptoms and emotional needs at the end of life.

  • Medications and medical equipment.

  • Volunteers, both people and sometimes pets, to help with stress and loneliness.

  • Physician guided care and ease of obtaining needed medications.

  • Bereavement care for 13 months following the death of a loved one.

  • RN care, which is available 24 hours a day by phone and by visit if needed.

How does a caregiver get hospice care started?

Generally this is a conversation with a physician, but families/patients can contact hospice directly and request an evaluation.

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