The What, Who, & Where of Hospice Care


If your goal has been to beat the odds and survive a life-threatening illness, it can be devastating to hear the words, “there is nothing more we can do for you.” While that may be true in terms of treatment, it’s not the last word when it comes to comfort and caring. Hospice is all about caring when a cure is not possible.

What is Hospice Care?

For people with a life-limiting illness, hospice is about living the rest of your days as fully as possible. Hospice care is also for the members of your family, taking care of them and helping them care for you. The support hospice provides can transform your lives at a difficult time.

Choosing hospice care doesn’t mean you’ve given up. It does mean changing what you hope for. A hospice nurse says, “It’s shifting your focus from being cured to doing what matters to you, being at home with your family and doing the activities you are able to do. The truth is, hospice care can enhance and deepen your life and relationships in ways that you would never expect.”

Hospice includes a range of services from providing medications and managing pain and symptoms to coaching your family and helping you process what happens next.

Who Will Take Care of Me?

Hospice care is usually provided by a team, consisting of a specially trained physician, hospice nurses, home health aides, social workers, trained volunteers and clergy or other counselors. To best care for you, they may ask questions like:

  • How can we help you live well?

  • What makes you happy?

  • What activities or experiences would you like to do or continue doing as long as you’re able?

  • What are your fears or worries about your illness or medical care?

  • What needs or services would you like to discuss?

  • What do you hope for your family and loved ones?

  • Do you have religious or spiritual needs that are important to you?

  • What would make this time especially meaningful to you?

When Should I Consider Hospice Care?

This is a personal decision, but it’s important to think about hospice when doing “everything possible” is no longer helping you or when the toll of treatment is greater than its benefits. You may want to consider hospice if:

  • You’re no longer receiving treatments to cure your illness.

  • You've made several trips to the emergency room, and your condition has been stabilized, but your illness continues to progress.

  • You've been admitted to the hospital several times within the last year with the same symptoms.

  • You wish to remain at home, rather than spend time in the hospital.

Even if you don’t choose hospice care immediately, you may want to explore the possibilities. The hospice team can help you make a plan that fits your needs. Too often, people postpone hospice care until their final weeks or days of life, prolonging their discomfort and delaying opportunities for quality time.

Where Does Hospice Care Take Place?

Hospice can happen wherever you choose. It can be your home, a family member’s home, a skilled nursing facility or a center specifically designed to support people in the last stages of life.

We’ll explore these options and cover how to choose a hospice provider in our next blog post. Your doctor, of course, is always the best place to start.

Videos About Hospice Care

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and National Hospice Foundation have prepared a series of six videos that cover the basics of hospice care. You can watch them here: