How Long Does the Average Hospice Patient Live?

What Hospice Means

Hospice is a medical program that supports people who are in the end-of-life stage. When a person enrolls in hospice, it means they are no longer pursuing treatment to extend their life expectancy. Instead, the focus of hospice care is to provide a comprehensive support system that makes a person’s final days as comfortable as possible.

A hospice program combines a series of support strategies that go above and beyond standard medical care. A patient may receive a combination of physical therapy services, medication management, grief counseling, spiritual advisement, nutrition assistance, and other forms of help.

Where is Hospice Offered?

While the basic concept of hospice programs is the same across the board, the organizations offering the services exist in different forms. Some hospitals run their own hospice programs while other people receive services directly in nursing facilities or assisted living centers. Many hospice programs are operated through independent agencies. No matter where a person receives their hospice care, they’ll have 24-hour care.

A major benefit of hospice is care is that patients can usually remain in their homes, rather than having to spend their last days being shuttled from appointment to appointment.

Who Typically Participates in Hospice?

A patient whose doctor believes they have less than six months to live is often referred to hospice. People with any number of conditions may choose to enroll in a hospice program. Some patients have been diagnosed with cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or ALS disease and are no longer seeking treatment for their condition. Many people who receive hospice care are older and are in the final stages of decline, although hospice patients can be any age.

How Long Does the Average Hospice Patient Live?

Keep in mind that the length of time a person stays on hospice depends on the individual and the progression of their condition. There is never a definitive way to know how long a person will live while under hospice care. According to a 2014 study that involved 126,620 people, around 93.6% of those hospice patients passed away within six months after starting services. The same study notes that the patients involved in the study who lived longer than six months were often younger than 65 years old and were female. All of the patients who were monitored in this study began their hospice care between January 1, 2008 and May 15, 2012.

In general, about one-third of hospice patients die within their first week of hospice care. At the three-week mark, about half of hospice patients have passed on. Broader studies have suggested that between 12 and 15% of hospice patients survive more than the estimated six months. Some of these individuals may even live a few additional years, despite their initial enrolment in hospice.

Sometimes, people who begin hospice care programs live longer than people who undergo traditional treatment for their symptoms. For example, patients with cancer may gain weight in hospice once they stop chemotherapy treatments. They may have more energy to spend time with family and to eat than if they were undergoing aggressive treatment at the late stage.

According to research experts at Yale, around half of all hospice patients begin hospice so late that they can’t take advantage of all the benefits the program has to offer. When patients are admitted to hospice programs too late in life, they often pass away only a week or two after their initial enrolment, resulting in lost time spent with family.

Do People Stay on Hospice Indefinitely?

As mentioned above, most people who enter hospice care will pass away in the timeframe their doctors predicted. However, for those patients who survive longer, they may be able to get an extension of hospice services if their doctor still considers them to be at the end-of-life stage.

A person can discontinue hospice care at any time they wish, undergoing treatment just as they had before hospice. Some people may stop and start hospice multiple times, although this situation is rare.

Ways You Can Support Someone on Hospice

Choosing to pursue hospice care is ultimately a decision that’s left up to the patient. As a loved one, it can be difficult to accept that the patient no longer wishes to pursue treatment for their condition. However, respecting their decision to begin hospice care is one of the best ways that you can support them at this time.

Keep in mind that to enroll in hospice, a patient’s doctor must provide documentation that they believe the patient has less than six months to live. Rather than thinking of hospice as “giving up,” family members and other loved ones can support a patient by recognizing the step as one of acceptance. The hospice patient won’t have to undergo unnecessary testing and can instead live their final days as peacefully as possible.

Staying involved with your family member’s hospice care plan can also go a long way in terms of helping your loved one feel supported. Get to know their dietician, nurses, aides, social workers, and other hospice professionals. If there’s a service that you think may benefit the patient, such as a particular spiritual counselor, talk with the patient and their hospice coordinator.

Resources for Seniors, Families, and Caregivers

If your family member is considering hospice or has already made the decision to switch to hospice care, there are many resources that can help you process the change and support them.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides assistance with talking to your family member about what sort of treatment they would like to receive in the event of a life-changing illness. While this conversation may seem difficult to begin, it’s important to have it so you can ensure you’re supporting their wishes when the time comes. NHPCO provides tips on their website for initiating these sometimes uncomfortable conversations.

The organization Aging With Dignity also provides resources for seniors and their families to help detail their advance directives. Their “Five Wishes” document is a handy tool to outline your family’s spiritual, medical, personal, and legal wishes.

Organizations dedicated to seniors such as AARP, the National Institute on Aging, and Caring Across Generations also have online information that can answer your questions about end-of-life care. Other ways you can show your love for a family member is through hospice care kits or simply spending time with them.

Conclusion

Remember that there is no certain way to know how long someone will live in a hospice program, although most patients do not live past six months in the program. There are many misconceptions about hospice, but for most people who have entered the end-of-life stage, hospice care offers comfort and relief from unnecessary testing and medical procedures. For many, hospice care is a way to spend more time with family and friends in a familiar environment.

Sources:

1. What Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care?, National Institute on Aging, www.nia.nih.gov

2. Can Hospices Predict Which Patients Will Die Within 6 Months?, National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

3. Careers in Hospice Care, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov

4. Talking with Others About Their End-of-Life Wishes, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, www.caringinfo.org

5. Why Hospice Care Should Begin Sooner Rather than Later, Denver Hospice, thedenverhospice.org

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