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Publication: Pittsburg Gazette

For people experiencing a major illness like cancer, quality of life matters greatly throughout the care and treatment journey. One of the most emotionally charged, deeply personal, and perhaps misunderstood aspects of care and quality of life is hospice care. Patients and their loved ones who are confronted with difficult decisions as cancer progresses need to be able to discern myths versus facts when it comes to hospice and its role in cancer care.

What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?

People often confuse hospice and palliative care. While they both provide emotional and comfort care, including pain or symptom management, that’s where the similarity ends.

Palliative care, or palliative medicine, is specialized medical care for patients at any stage of a serious illness, with a focus on managing symptoms caused by cancer and side effects of treatment.

Hospice is designed to provide end-of-life comfort, support, and dignity to those facing an advanced, late-stage disease or illness that has become unresponsive to treatment. Hospice can also be appropriate for patients who decide the burden of treatment is overwhelming their quality of life and no longer consistent with their personal goals.

Myth vs. Reality in Hospice Care

Myth #1: Hospice care is only available at specific hospice facilities or hospitals.

Reality: About 70% of hospice care takes place where the patient lives, which may be a patient’s home, nursing home, or community living arrangement. This approach allows the patient to be with important objects, memories, and family which can support improved quality of life.

Myth #2: Hospice care is only for cancer patients.

Reality: More than one-half of hospice patients nationwide have diagnoses other than cancer. Those suffering from illnesses such as dementia, stroke, heart diseaseALS, or Parkinson's disease with a lifetime prognosis of six months or less, may benefit from the support of hospice care. Hospice may also be considered if therapies are not effective and one’s condition continues to deteriorate.

Myth #3: Hospice care means a patient stops receiving all medications and treatments.

Reality: One of the main facets of hospice is an emphasis on pain management and symptom relief – maintaining patient comfort which can include administering medications. However, it is important to note that hospice is not focused on curative therapies or interventions to prolong life.

Myth #4: Hospice is only for patients who are experiencing extreme states of physical or cognitive decline, can’t get out of bed, or for those who have only days to live.

Reality: A patient does not have to be confined to his or her bed or in their final days of life to receive hospice care. In fact, hospice is most beneficial when the patient can receive care early on. It should be considered when there is a noticeable decline in physical or cognitive ability despite medical treatment. This may include increased pain, significant weight loss, extreme fatigue, or weakness.

Myth #5: Hospice care has no real benefits.

Reality: Hospice offers state-of-the-art symptom management care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hospice staff are knowledgeable when it comes to pain treatments or helping patients feel comfortable with pain management alternatives. Hospice also offers the expertise of bereavement and spiritual counselors who help patients and families come to terms with the reality of dying. They can assist patients in finishing important tasks, saying final goodbyes, or completing a spiritual journey.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Month in November is an opportunity to recognize the power of this important and deeply personalized care, and how hospice improves quality of life for patients near the end of life and supports those who love them. Debunking myths and knowing the facts can help to dispel fears, clarify misconceptions, or provide guidance for those in need. 

To learn more about hospice care in Texas, talk with a health care provider or visit the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

This article originally appeared in Pittsburg Gazette.

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