Debunking Myths About Hospice

Lisa Fields
Added: 06.24.2022
5 minutes read
When you conjure an image of hospice, do you envision a stark room in a cold, impersonal facility where someone with advanced cancer goes to live out the last few days of life without medical intervention? This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Hospice is a care plan that provides in-home medical care to someone with a life-limiting diagnosis, to improve their quality of life. An interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, home aides and more help alleviate physical, mental and emotional pain and provide assistance to family caregivers.

Most Americans know little about hospice because people tend to shy away from end-of-life topics. Doctors also don’t always know much about hospice, so they may not recommend it to patients, which may contribute to widespread misconceptions.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what hospice actually does,” says Craig Borchardt, PhD, assistant professor of humanities in medicine at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine and CEO of Hospice Brazos Valley in Bryan, Texas, “[and] I don’t think that healthcare professionals, in many instances, really do understand the scope of services that are provided.”

Here, we dispel common myths about hospice:

Myth #1: Hospice is a death sentence – people go there to die.
Some people do spend a few days in hospice before passing away, but anyone with a life expectancy of six months or less may qualify for hospice. Spending more time in hospice improves quality of life.

“Hospice is a very, very proactive treatment strategy,” Borchardt says. “You don’t have to have a doctor’s prescription to get oxygen; you can have all the oxygen you want on hospice. That’s not true in home health. Our service scope is much broader than a lot of the other post-acute or end-of-life options that people have.”

Myth #2: People die more quickly in hospice than they would otherwise.
People may believe this because they know someone who died days after entering hospice, but the care that patients receive has the opposite effect.

“There’s really good research that shows that actually, hospice care extends life,” Borchardt says. “It’s about helping them remain symptom-free so that they can live their lives.”

Myth #3: Hospice is only for cancer patients, so it doesn’t apply to my situation.
Hospice benefits were originally available to cancer patients, but now, anyone with a prognosis of six months or less may be eligible.

“The sooner that we have the patient on service, especially for non-cancer,” Borchardt says, “we can provide services that help the patient and the family navigate the decline.”

Dementia patients – and their relatives – may benefit from hospice.

“[For] Alzheimer’s especially, that decline can be very, very slow and become very, very difficult for loved ones to care for that person,” Borchardt says. “Having a team of seven people focused on that particular patient, providing support, really does provide relief for the family.”

Myth #4: People must move into a hospice facility, instead of staying home.
Certain hospice programs may offer housing options, but most programs offer care in a person’s home.

“The data is clear: Everybody wants to be in their own home,” Borchardt says. “The hospice model is geared to keep people in their home... That’s where the best care can be provided.”

Myth #5: Having a relative in hospice upsets family members.
When hospice is the appropriate care option, the program looks after a patient’s family, not just the patient. They’re eligible for respite care to avoid burnout, counseling to cope with the loved one’s diagnosis and, later, bereavement therapy.

“The hospice model takes care of the family just as much as it takes care of the patient,” Borchardt says. “For Alzheimer’s patients, I think families need to hear that. The sooner that you can get your loved one into hospice care, as appropriate, it becomes less of a burden for the family.”