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Hospice Care: What to Expect

Hospice care is an important part of medical care in the US—and has evolved to provide comfort and support to patients and their families throughout the country. However, many people aren’t aware of the types of services hospice care provides—and what’s available to them. Here’s an overview of what you can expect in hospice care.

Expect comfort, not a cure

Hospice care is designed to provide comfort and quality of life in a patient’s final months, not search for a cure to an illness. It’s designed for those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and a prognosis of six months to live or less. The medications prescribed under hospice care may relieve pain, nausea, itching, muscle cramps, and other uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Procedures such as chemotherapy and radiation are usually only available when the goal is to reduce pain.


Patients with terminal illnesses—and their family members and loved ones—face many difficult decisions.

Expect care at home or in the hospital

While hospice care is usually delivered at home, some hospitals offer hospice units in-house. However, in-home hospice care is usually not offered round-the-clock—so a nursing home staff member, family member, or other caregiver will have to step in during these times.

Expect a range of caregivers

In most hospice programs, patients are given access to a case management nurse who will visit several times a week. In addition, most give access to on-call nurses 24 hours a day. Physicians often participate in care, and social workers and counselors, including religious or bereavement counselors if appropriate, may step in to assist with the emotional component of care. In addition, Home Health Aides may assist patients at home several times a week.

Expect to receive medical equipment

Hospice programs provide the medical equipment a patient needs to be comfortable, whether at home or in an assisted living facility or hospital hospice unit. This may include wheelchairs, hospital beds, mobility aids, breathing aids, or dialysis machines.

Expect respite care

In addition to the medical care patients receive in the home, hospice programs provide respite care for full-time caregivers. Usually this consists of in-patient care on a short-term basis, up to five continuous days. The purpose of respite care is to allow a full-time caregiver to relax and take a break from demanding caregiving duties. Respite care is often available even if a patient does not qualify for inpatient or continuing care.

Expect full-time care in emergency situations

In some cases, 24-hour care is necessary. For those who qualify, there are inpatient facilities available that offer this kind of continuous care. These include private hospice companies, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. This type of care is usually not offered on a permanent basis, and patients must be re-evaluated periodically.

Continuous home care is also available on a short-term basis. This type of care is available to those who qualify for hospice care in a hospital or another facility, but who would rather receive care at home. Under continuous home care, trained nursing professionals will stay at home with the patient for 24 hours until that level of care is determined to be no longer necessary.

Patients with terminal illnesses—and their family members and loved ones—face many difficult decisions. Choosing hospice care may be a difficult decision in itself—as patients must decide to forego more aggressive forms of care. Hospice care is designed to make patients comfortable and assure the highest quality of life possible toward the end of life. Bear in mind that, although hospice care is best for patients with a projected six months or less to live, patients may live for many years after receiving this diagnosis—and may need hospice care for a longer continuous amount of time than originally projected.