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Hospice associate and patient sitting together

Dispelling fear of hospice

The word “hospice” sometimes instills fear and uncertainty. Most people automatically associate the term with death. Because of this, several myths about hospice care persist.

Removing the stigma of hospice and redefining end-of-life care is essential as the population of seniors in the U.S. is expected to double in the next 30 years. That means more people will be living with chronic, life-limiting illness that need expert end-of-life care.

Spartanburg Regional Hospice would like to help dispel myths to make hospice a comfort, rather than a fear.

Myth No. 1: Hospice care means giving up hope

Choosing hospice may mean redefining hope, rather than giving up. And hope can take many forms. Where a patient once hoped for a cure, they may now hope to live pain-free.

Hope may mean seeing a distant friend or relative another time or taking a trip to the beach. Hope could also be as simple as wanting to spend as much time with loved ones as possible, or remaining at home rather than staying in the hospital or a nursing home.

Hope looks different in hospice care but it is certainly not lost. The hospice team can help patients accomplish tasks, fulfill wishes and maintain hope and dignity.

Myth No. 2: Hospice means that I have to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order

Having a Do Not Resuscitate order, or DNR, in place is not a requirement to receive hospice care. Signing a DNR means that you do not want to be resuscitated with CPR or other means should your breathing or heart stop.

While many patients receiving hospice care elect to have a DNR in place, it is not the right choice for everyone. The priority of hospice is patient comfort with the patient directing care. No decisions should ever be forced upon patients.

Myth No. 3: Hospice is only for cancer patients

More than 51 percent of hospice patients are admitted to hospice with chronic, non-cancer diagnoses. That means just under half of hospice patients have cancer. Some of the most common non-cancer diagnoses in hospice include heart disease, dementia, lung disease, kidney disease and liver disease. The hospice team is skilled at managing symptoms of cancer and many other chronic illness.

Myth No. 4: Hospice Is only for patients who are close to death or actively dying

Because of the highly skilled care that hospice workers provide to their patients, hospice works best when the team has time to deliver it. Patients and their loved ones need support, information and medical care. Social workers and chaplains need time to work with patients and their loved ones to bring them to a place of acceptance. Nurses and doctors need time to get the patient's symptoms optimally managed.

Myth No. 5: Hospice stops feeding patients

Hospice encourages patients to eat and drink only what they want. It is natural for some patients to not feel hungry or thirsty.

It is important to understand that loss of appetite and weight loss are normal parts of the dying process. It is gradual for some and quite sudden for others — but nearly all patients with a life-limiting illness stop eating and drinking at some point.

Myth No. 6: Hospice uses morphine, which causes the patient to die sooner

Not all hospice patients are on morphine. Morphine, and other similar narcotics, are given to control pain or breathing difficulties in patients that benefit from such medication for comfort. Research has shown that morphine does not hasten death when given to provide comfort at the end of life.

Grief Support Group

Having a loved one in hospice care can be difficult for the family. Join us for a grief support group on Tuesday, Nov. 20, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The group provides a safe and supportive environment to talk about thoughts and feelings and to find support after the loss of a loved one. There is no fee, but registration is required. Register at SpartanburgRegional.com/Events or call 864-560-3856 for more information.

Katie Harbin, M.Div, M.S., is a chaplain for Spartanburg Regional Hospice.