Q: What is hospice? - E.W., Atlanta
A: Hospices make a terminally ill patient as comfortable as possible. Also known as palliative care, hospice care seeks to relieve suffering.
Hospices use an interdisciplinary team care approach, merging the efforts of physicians, nurses, volunteers and social workers. Hospice programs also seek to involve the family in the care plan. The care team provides support for the physical, spiritual, emotional and social needs of the patient and family.
Hospice care becomes an option when conventional medical treatments have proven unsuccessful and the patient is diagnosed as terminally ill, with six months or less to live. A hospice program may provide a variety of services, including the dispensing of pain medication, spiritual guidance and family counseling.
Hospice patients can receive care at home, including visits from a registered nurse, home health aides for everyday hygiene and volunteers to relieve caregivers or provide emotional support.
Before choosing a hospice program, identify the needs of the individual. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations offers a questionnaire to help you gather the appropriate information. The commission's report, Quality Check, provides information on the organization's performance level and contact information. Call (630) 792-5800.
You may also contact the National Hospice Organization at (703) 243-5900 or the Hospice Association of America at (202) 547-5277 for information.
Terminal illness affects all members of a family. Don't neglect your own needs as a care-giver. Ask for support when you need it. Don't be afraid to ask questions of health care professionals and ask for clarification on confusing terms and information. Don't feel embarrassed to ask for more privacy or time alone with your ill friend or relative.
If you have a question or would like additional information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.,