The Hospice Decision: Making the Hard Choice at the Right Time

For many the word “hospice” is very much like the word “cancer.”  The connotation of the word means death and the topic is avoided until there is no avoiding it.  Terry Murphy is a registered nurse and the Clinical Director for Wesley Hospice Care in Columbus, Ohio.  “The biggest mistake families make,” says Terry, “is waiting too late to ask for hospice care for a loved one.”  Contrary to the belief that hospice means imminent death, Murphy says that studies show that a patient given early hospice care lives 30 days longer than when hospice is brought in only at the final hours.

To understand why early hospice care is recommended, one must understand what hospice care is.  Hospice is a specialized care that focuses on supporting you and your loved ones during an advanced illness. The emphasis is on comfort and quality of life, rather than finding a cure.  To be ready for hospice one must have turned the hard-emotional corner accepting that a hoped-for cure is not likely, but still wanting the best and longest quality time with a loved one. “Education is one of the key components of good hospice care” says Murphy.  “We come alongside the family and help them understand what is happening with their loved one and guide their efforts in extending comfort to them.” For example, a well-meaning caregiver may be trying to force the patient to eat or drink when the body is no longer capable of digestion, causing physical pain.

What is “early” hospice care?  Many times, a patient is given a life-limiting diagnosis but with no definite “end” time. Months, even years can pass with little change in the patient’s health.  Change, says Terry, is what you want to look for. “We often ask family members what their loved one’s health was like six months ago?”  Have they lost more than 10% of their body weight without efforts to lose weight?  Have their eating or drinking patterns changed or diminished? Has their mobility decreased?  Has their cognitive levels changed drastically?  All of these things say Murphy are signals the body is sending that degenerative change is happening.  This is the time to visit with your hospice provider.

Shouldn’t one just wait until the Doctor says hospice care is necessary?  Not necessarily.  While listening to your Doctor’s directives is essential to maintaining good health, the physician may be listening to the family’s directives to keep pushing for the “cure.”  The Doctor may be intellectually certain that continued life-sustaining efforts are in vain, but hesitant to recommend hospice against the family’s hopes.  “Hospice,” says Murphy, “allows the spouse to be a spouse, the son to be a son, the daughter to be a daughter.”  Having compassionate professionals take over the physical care of your loved one frees you to be “present” for them emotionally and spiritually.  It even allows you to begin the grieving process while your loved one is still with you rather than getting lost in the “busyness” and stalling grieving until they are gone.

For questions about your loved one’s hospice needs, you can reach Terry at Wesley Hospice at or call 614 451 6700.

This blog is written by Kathy Chiero.  The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team for the over-55  homeowner.  Find us at

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