What is hospice care?

By Clint Andersen

Most of us have heard of “hospice care”, but few know what it is or how it works.   November is National Hospice Care Month, so let’s take a look at what hospice care is and how it impacts the lives of those who benefit from it.

Hospice is a program that provides care, comfort and support for people with life-limiting conditions and their families.  An interdisciplinary team of a doctor, nurse, chaplain, social worker, various therapists and volunteers strives to make people comfortable and relieve symptoms and pain for the entire length of an illness when medical care cannot offer a cure.  Some diagnoses that may eventually lead to hospice care include cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and others.  Diana Lecher, Director of Home Health, Hospice and Cardio/Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Chadron Community Hospital, describes coordinating the hospice program as “the most rewarding experience she could have as a nurse.”  She sees families whose lives have been turned upside down and says, “There is so much we can do to help.”

Hospice does not mean giving up.  Rather, it allows people to be in control, giving them dignity and freedom of choice on matters that are important to them.  Medical care can be administered to control pain and other symptoms meaning hospice care helps people live longer, with a better quality of life.

Sheridan County residents benefit from hospice care locally.  Mike Miles is a 66 year old veteran who suffers from Friedreick’s Ataxia, a rare disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems.  Mike lives at Countryside Care in Gordon and utilizes several hospice services such as a nurse, massage therapy, and a hospice musician who visits every two weeks.  Mike also has two volunteers who visit often to provide companionship, water his plants, read the newspaper, and even bring his horses to town.

Mike has been in hospice care for a year, and Mike’s wife, Judy, says that it has really helped not just Mike, but her as well.  At first, hospice care seemed “scary” and “kind of sad,” but now she sees it as a great asset because “they are there for your family, too.”  Mike looks forward to his nurse and volunteers coming in, and it takes a lot of pressure off of Judy knowing that someone is helping to look after his needs.  Judy says that the hospice caregivers are “really comforting people” and go out of their way to check on her as well.

Hospice care helps more than 1.5 million Americans with life-limiting illnesses and their families.  To accomplish this, more than 468,000 trained volunteers contribute 21 million hours of service to hospice programs annually.  Hospice makes it possible for people to spend their final months surrounded by family and loved ones at home – wherever home may be.

For more information on hospice care, check out www.hospiceletsmebe.org, or the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at www.nhpco.org.

Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Nebraska Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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