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Transitioning to end-of-life care

Being present for a loved one at the end of their life—talking and being together—is an extraordinary commitment that can be alternately emotionally rewarding and excruciating. Helping them with decision-making and attending to their physical, mental, and emotional needs can all contribute to their sense of dignity and peace at the end of life. 
As treatment of your loved one’s disease no longer makes sense, there are distinct approaches to health care that their doctors may recommend. Both palliative and hospice care are designed to provide comfort and reduce suffering, rather than prolong life. 

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a health care treatment designed to improve the quality of life for anyone living with illness or injury. It may precede hospice care at the end of life but isn’t strictly for end-of-life care. It’s meant to treat the "whole person," to relieve stress and pain, not to cure. 
Without it, people would experience more pain, depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, nausea, and insomnia.  

What is hospice care?

Hospice care is a type of palliative care that begins after the treatment for disease has stopped, generally when someone has 6 months or less to live. It can support both the dying individual and the needs of their family. Hospice includes pain management and attention to physical needs, as well as counseling and spiritual support. Care can be provided at home or in hospice centers, hospitals, or nursing homes. 
In general, when a doctor believes a person has less than 6 months to live, the person is eligible for hospice care. 

End-of-life resources

As your loved one’s needs and care transition to end-of-life support, it’s understandable if you’re not sure how to support your loved one financially or physically. Here are some resources that might help. 
  • National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization: Resources for caregivers and families as they navigate end of life. 
  • Find a hospice provider: Medicare offers an online tool to find and compare services in your area. 
  • Paying for hospice: Learn about Medicare coverage for hospice services. Generally, if your loved one is over the age of 65 Medicare covers most of the care your loved one might need. 
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end by Atul Gawande, MD: A bestselling book with guidance on how to have hard conversations and prioritize your loved one's wishes. 

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This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.