Myths and Misconceptions About Hospice Care

May 13, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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The word “hospice”conjures up all kinds of pictures in peoples minds.  From halloween costumes and horror movies to more serious images; people are often afraid of hospice.  

So, let’s take a candid look at what hospice is and is not.  We’ll talk about what they do and don’t do.  Most importantly, I’ll examine the myths and misconceptions surrounding hospice care.

Myth #1

Hospice means impending death-According to the Medicare benefit (part A) a physician can recommend hospice care for a patient if the physician believes that the patient “probably” has six months or fewer to live. 

Truth:  Hospice employees and volunteers have reported patients living for two to three years while receiving hospice care.  In fact, according to Trinity Hospice Chaplain, Cindy Vogel, “Hospice care can actually increase quantity and quality of life because of the team approach and attention to the well-being of the whole person-physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.”  

Myth #2

Morphine as a method of pain management ultimately causes death to occur more quickly.

Truth:  According to the Hospice Foundation of America–“Morphine does not initiate the final phase of life or lead directly to death.  Morphine provides not only relief of severe, chronic pain; it also provides a sense of comfort. It makes breathing easier.  It lets the patient relax and sleep.  It does not cloud consciousness or lead to death.  Morphine does not kill.” 

Myth #3

Hospice supports and causes –Death by starvation and dehydration 

For those who have done a little research into hospice or have some indirect experience, this is probably the single largest issue. And understandably so.  No one wants to feel as if they are starving or dehydrating their loved one to death.  So, I’ll take a little extra time to examine this issue carefully.

Truth:  When people begin actively dying one of the things they do (voluntarily) is stop eating. This is part of the body’s way of shutting down and preparing for death.  For those of us who experience hunger pangs just a few hours after a meal, we cannot imagine withholding food and water from someone.  Yet, according to the Hospice Foundation of America, “The withholding of food and fluids is not painful.  To the contrary:  the administration of food and fluids to dying persons can extend their general discomfort and frustrate their desire to just let go and allow nature to take its course.”  

However, the REAL issue regarding the withholding of food and fluids is what does our loved one experience?  Again, we can’t bear the thought that our loved one is feeling hungry or thirsty and thinking, “Why don’t they feed me?”  According to WebMD, “There is evidence that avoiding artificial nutrition and hydration contributes to a more comfortable death.”  The article goes on to say that, “Caregivers have observed that symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, incontinence, congestion, shortness of breath….decreased when artificial nutrition and hydration were discontinued, making the patient more comfortable.

This is another very difficult and personal decision.  One that is more easily made before the time comes.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still a difficult decision and you will probably second guess yourself and want to be sure you are doing what is best.  You will probably review the information and have more questions, but just having gone through the thought process once and having come to a decision will make it easier when the time comes to implement the whatever decision you have made.

(Special thanks to Bonnie Holland and Cindy Vogel at PA Trinity Hospice for providing information for this post.)  

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of placing your loved one into hospice care.

Keep your eyes open and get your cameras ready, it’s coming soon…..Caregiver or loved one Photo of the Week! 





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4 Responses to “Myths and Misconceptions About Hospice Care”
  1. Bonnie, thanks so much for stopping by. Yes, hospice is certainly a tough topic to tackle, but then so is Alzheimer’s disease. Spread the word about this series of posts so that we can ultimately reach those who need the special brand of caring that only hospice can do.

  2. Bonnie Holland says:

    Loretta…I commend you on taking on the topic of Hospice Care. As a nation, we are afraid to talk about our own mortality. The 3 fears my patients have shared with me over the years are: (1) Fear of dying alone, (2) Fear of dying in pain (3) Fear of being a burden on their loved one’s either financially or emotionally. The Hospice philosophy, is to treat patients and their loved ones with focus on emotional, physical and spiritual holistic care. Hospice eases the above noted fears so that patients and and their loved ones have time to reflect on life’s accomplishments. Loretta, I hope that your blog will reach the many people that need the support and love of Hospice.

    Bonnie Holland RN
    Executive Director
    Pennsylvania Trinity Hospice

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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