Definition of Hospice Care: Truths, Realities and Myths

family member in home hospice

Hospice offers comfort to patients and their love ones who choose to focus on quality of life rather than curative treatments for a terminal illness. It is an option for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, as determined by a doctor and a hospice medical director. 

Hospice is about making the most of the time that remains

Many believe hospice is expensive or a place to go when there's no hope. None of these are true. Hospice is not about dying; It's about helping patients live as well as they can when life expectancy is limited.

You can go back to currative care at any time

Patients may choose to stop hospice care at any time. For example, a patient’s health may improve or they may decide to pursue treatments for their life-limiting illness.

Patients still get care for non-terminal conditions

Hospice patients continue to get regular medical care for conditions not related to their terminal illness. For example, a patient with diabetes can get checkups and diabetes medication covered by Medicare or other insurance.

See our frequently asked questions about hospice.

Getting real about home hospice

Caring for someone who is seriously ill can be mentally and physically difficult. There are times when a home can feel like a hospital ward.

A family member usually steps in to be the primary hospice caregiver for home hospice. Caring for a family member can come with a high learning curve and lots of stress. It’s a labor many caregivers willingly choose as a gift to their loved one.

Thankfully, family caregivers aren’t alone. Hospice teams have extensive experience guiding patients and family members to a positive experience.

There will be good days and bad days, but know that hospice staff will schedule visits to meet your needs. Learn more about avoiding caregiver burnout.

Visit our location page or call us toll-free at 833-299-1525 if you'd like to speak with someone about hospice care.

Family caregiver responsibilities

  • Provide input for the plan of care
  • Caregivers help patients with the activities of daily living, which may include bathing, feeding and going to the bathroom
  • Personal care for patients includes brushing teeth, combing hair, shaving or providing clean clothes.
  • Primary caregivers ensure their loved one has their prescriptions and that all medicines are given at the correct dose and time. Hospice nurses and aides can teach proper techniques.
  • Caregivers provide basis medical care including changing dressing, taking temperatures and blood pressure readings
  • Family members must understand how to use a patient’s medical equipment including oxygen machines, wheelchairs, lifts and hospital beds.
  • Notify hospice personnel of changes in the patient's condition

Guaranteed Medicare hospice benefits

Medicare benefits mandate a specific list of services for all Medicare hospice providers. These services include:

  • Doctor services and consultations, including a plan of care
  • Nursing care
  • Medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers or medical beds
  • Medical supplies, like bandages or catheters
  • Prescription drugs for symptom control or pain relief related to the terminal illness
  • Hospice aide and homemaker services
  • Physical therapy services
  • Occupational therapy services
  • Speech-language pathology services
  • Social work services
  • Dietary counseling
  • Grief and loss counseling for you and your family
  • Short-term inpatient care at a nursing facility
  • Respite care to offer caregivers short-term relief. 
  • Volunteer services for errands or help in the home
  • Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage pain and other symptoms related to the terminal illness.

Respite care

The Medicare hospice benefit also includes respite care so family caregivers have time off to recover and recharge. Medicare benefits pay for up to five consecutive days of inpatient care at a nursing facility or hospital. For patients already living in a nursing facility, the hospice benefit adds an extra layer of supportive care on top of 24-hour nursing care.

The hospice team

hospice for mother

Hospice is a fully covered Medicare benefit

Coverage includes nurses, other caregivers, medicines, supplies, equipment and support, with no out-of-pocket expenses for the hospice diagnosis.

Call a program near you for information