The thought of dying is an area that strikes us at our core. We would like to believe that we will live forever and yet nothing in science has been able to solve that puzzle. The fact is that there is no cheating death, so all we can hope for is a long, healthy, and happy life. Sadly, for some, this is not an option.
Individuals are diagnosed every day with a debilitating terminal illness. These illnesses can include cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease just to name a few. What many do not view as “terminal” illnesses are those diagnoses we see and hear about every day such as COPD, dementia, heart disease, or even uncontrolled diabetes. That’s not to say that the aforementioned diagnoses are necessarily “terminal” illnesses, but left untreated they can lead to a shorter lifespan and early death.
So what is hospice? The United States was first acquainted with the term Hospice when an English physician named Dame Cicely Saunders spoke about the idea and meaning of hospice in a lecture that she gave at Yale University in 1963 (Journal of Oncology Practice, 2008). Dr. Saunders’ speech created a dialogue which led to an understanding of the dying process and hospice care as we have come to know it today.
The number of hospice enrollees over the years has grown immensely. In the 1980s there were approximately 100,000 patients enrolled in hospice. In 2014, there were 1.6 million individuals enrolled in hospice programs across the United States. One main reason for hospice growth is the philosophy of keeping people out of hospitals and comfortable in their homes at the end of life.
Hospice, being a community-based service, helps individuals at the end of life to improve their quality of life. They do this by providing “wrap-around” services that include pain and symptom management, nurse and doctor support, social work, spiritual guidance, volunteer services, and nurse’s aides to assist with personal care needs. The hospice nurse is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for questions or support.
Some individuals with terminal illness view the acceptance of hospice as “giving up” when in fact hospice is about living well in the last months, weeks, days, and hours of life. The services provided by hospice allow the patient to be managed in their home with their family, friends, and personal belongings around them. So if you or someone you know is in need of hospice care, let your provider know. We may be able to connect you or those you love to those services.