These are good guidelines to go by when speaking with family:

When medical treatment can no longer slow or cure an illness, hospice offers alternative care. The goal of hospice is to relieve suffering and help people find meaning at the end of life. Medication and clinical treatments are prescribed only to relieve pain or symptoms - not in an effort to cure.

A hospice program can provide end-of-life care in your home or in a hospital, nursing home or freestanding facility. Therapies are customized to each person with the intent to:
  • Relieve pain
  • Provide peace of mind
  • Improve quality of life
The hospice team typically includes a doctor, nurse, home aide, therapists, counselors and a social worker, as well as your own doctor. A treatment plan might include activities like massage, music therapy or help in preparing an advance directive.

You're eligible for hospice if you no longer respond to medical treatment and a doctor concludes you're not likely to live for more than six months.

Important considerations

Review these points to decide whether hospice care is what you want for yourself or a loved one. It's a personal, sometimes wrenching decision, and it may help to discuss it with your doctor and people close to you.

Reasons for choosing hospice
  • Death with dignity. You are not hooked up to machines other than those that might ease pain or symptoms. You're less likely to undergo distressing tests and don't receive treatments that are no longer effective in curing your illness.
  • Comfort. Pain management is a priority. Studies confirm that people in hospice are more likely to have pain controlled than those receiving end-of-life care in other settings.
  • Quality of life. Hospice addresses emotional and spiritual needs. This helps the ill person come to terms with death and reduces the stress of dying.
  • Remaining at home. Most people prefer to die in the privacy of their own homes, surrounded by loved ones and pets. Hospice enables the care team to come to you.
  • Financial concerns. Hospice care typically costs less than hospital or nursing home care if you have a terminal illness. Plus, Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurers usually cover most or all of the costs.
  • Caregiver support. Families who received hospice care reported a "favorable dying experience" more often than those whose loved one died in a hospital.

    • Hospice counsels families so they know what to expect as an illness advances.
    • Respite care is provided so family caregivers get a break.
    • Caregivers are relieved of paperwork. Hospice often helps coordinate claims and bills for the services provided.
    • Families receive bereavement support for a year after a loved one dies.
  • Lack of home caregiver. People living on their own or with someone not up to the demands of caregiving can get compassionate end-of-life care at a hospice located in a hospital, nursing home or other facility.
Reasons not to seek hospice care
  • Wish to continue aggressive treatment. You may want to keep fighting an illness or take part in a clinical trial.
  • Prefer another approach. Your doctor may suggest other treatments to extend life.
Admission to hospice

If you decide to enter a hospice program, it's best to do so as soon as possible. People often regret not taking this step sooner, surveys show. Ask your doctor or a hospital discharge planner to recommend a hospice program. You can also find a list of hospice providers in your area through:
Keep in mind, too, that hospice care can be halted at any time if it starts to look like death is not imminent. You can also leave the program if you change your mind or the arrangement is not working out.