A hospice referral may come as a surprise to a patient and their loved ones. After a long illness, a progressing disease, or a life-limiting injury, families may correlate hospice with giving up hope. To the contrary, hospice opens the door to a network of professional support, compassionate care for pain and symptom management and resources for the patient and their families.

Many families unnecessarily delay hospice because they don’t understand its benefits. Waiting too long for hospice can affect an individual’s quality of life, and even the quantity, as patients often live longer (and better) on hospice. Medicare-certified hospice care can usually occur in your home or other facility where you live, like a nursing home. Hospice care can also take place in an inpatient hospice facility.

You can qualify for hospice care, if you have Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and meet all of these conditions:

  • Your hospice doctor and your regular doctor (if you have one) certify that you’re terminally ill (with a life expectancy of 6 months or less).
  • You accept comfort care (palliative care) instead of care to cure your illness.
  • You sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions.

Most commercial or private insurance plans have a hospice benefit that mirrors the Medicare hospice benefit. There may be some out-of-pocket costs for care.

Signs It May be Time for Hospice

But how do you know when it’s time for hospice? How can you predict the final stages of life? When can you tap into the needed resources to get the pain relief and help you deserve? Even if your physician has not referred you for a hospice evaluation, the questions below can help you understand if hospice might be the appropriate type of care needed. Have you or your loved one:

  • Been hospitalized or gone to the emergency room several times in the past six months? These may indicate that the current treatment plan is not working.
  • Been contacting your physician more frequently? If you or your loved one is contacting physicians more frequently to manage symptoms, it may indicate a need for more comprehensive care.
  • Started taking medication to try to relieve pain and symptoms? Being unable to keep up with pain or symptoms may indicate you need more options.
  • Begun spending most of the day in a chair or bed and have shortness of breath, even while resting?
  • Fallen several times over the past six months? Hospice services can help with home safety and equipment.
  • Started needing help from others with two or more of the following daily activities?
    • Getting in/out of bed
    • Bathing
    • Eating
    • Dressing
    • Walking
    • Speaking
  • Experienced noticeable weight loss and weakness or fatigue?
  • Experienced recurring infections?
  • Started having loss of bowel or bladder functions?
  • Been diagnosed with a terminal illness or told by a physician that life expectancy is limited?

If you answered “yes” to four or more of these questions, it may be time for a hospice evaluation. Contact your physician or local Heart to Heart Hospice location to determine if now is the right time for hospice. Download a printable version of the questions above.

Never Truly Ready, but Prepared

We’re never completely ready to say goodbye to our loved ones, but we can alleviate some stress by having end-of-life conversations sooner rather than later. Outlining your wishes provides direction for the process and peace of mind. Finally, recognizing the key signs for hospice readiness helps pave the way for compassionate help and vital resources.