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Redefining life

Imagine a service that strives daily to help patients with a life-limiting illness live life to its fullest. Patients enjoy activities surrounded by friends and family and are treated with respect and dignity. That service is hospice care.

British doctor Dame Cicely Saunders introduced the hospice concept to the United States more than 30 years ago. She saw firsthand how pain was often timeless, endless, meaningless and isolating for patients living with a life-limiting illness. So she helped create a program of specialized services that focuses on patients’ physical comfort as well as their mental and emotional well-being, which continues today.

Unfortunately, many people don’t seek hospice care early enough to benefit from these services. That’s because many people may believe that hospice means no hope. But nothing could be further from the truth. Read on to find out what hospice care is—and isn’t.

The hospice difference

Hospice care is devoted to helping patients remain alert and free of or in control of pain so quality time can be spent with their loved ones. Hospice doesn’t hasten or postpone death. In fact, if a patient’s condition improves, or the disease goes into remission, he or she can be discharged from the hospice program and restarted on standard therapies.

While hospice programs are tailored to each individual’s needs, they follow an interdisciplinary approach of care that may involve patients’ personal doctors, hospice doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers, clergy, counselors, trained volunteers and, in some cases, physical and occupational therapists.

Each team member has his or her role: Doctors and nurses visit a patient’s home to make sure the medical care is appropriate and the patient stays comfortable. Home health aides see to it that personal care, such as meal preparation, bathing and dressing, is taken care of. Trained volunteers stay with the patient to give the caregiver a break. The program also provides medical equipment, such as hospital beds, medical supplies and pain medicines. The team is available for the patient and the family 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How it works

Most patients receive hospice care within their own home. However, some patients get hospice in special hospital units or freestanding hospice facilities. Services are also delivered to those living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

The situation that works best for you depends on your own needs and the services available to you. Hospice Care of South Carolina’s services are offered on a “need” basis, meaning if you need services you won’t be denied them if you don’t have private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.

And remember: Although discussing death may be difficult, it’s best to get the information you need now and be prepared so you or your loved one can get the best possible care when you need it most.