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  • Melrose Meadows

What Is Hospice Really Like?

Many people wrongly assume hospice is a special hospital for the dying. But hospice is not a physical place; it's an approach to care for people with life-limiting illnesses that focuses on patient quality of life and comfort instead of fighting disease. Here are some commonly asked questions about hospice.

Who is a candidate for hospice?

Hospice candidates typically have a life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less. Families in this situation find themselves wanting to get out of the cycle of going to the hospital or ER for medical attention and manage their loved one’s symptoms with less disruption.

Why would we choose hospice care for our loved one?

At the end of life, people’s priorities change. Time with family, increased comfort and living in a peaceful environment are more important than battling the debilitating symptoms of disease. Hospice focuses on supporting the whole person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as the patient’s family and friends.

Most importantly, in hospice care, all the professionals you need – physical, spiritual, emotional, practical - are coordinated to work as a team.

Will my loved one have to move to hospice?

The majority of patients prefer to receive hospice care at home. But if your loved one’s condition requires medical management or supervision beyond what you can provide, they can be admitted to hospice inpatient care.

What happens once my loved one is admitted to hospice care?

Once your loved one is part of the hospice community, a typical day might include check-ins with members of the medical team. Medical teams consist of nurses, doctors, speech and occupational therapists, and counselors. The rest of the day may be for personal care, resting, and being with loved ones.

If your loved one is staying at a hospice center, they might also receive music or pet therapy during their stay. Music therapy has been proven to reduce a patient’s anxiety and pain levels. A music therapist might encourage a patient to engage in guided imagery to music, to move to music as much as possible, or to sing favorite songs with the therapist, family, and friends. Pet therapy can be as simple as cuddling a therapy dog or playing with a beloved pet brought from home for a visit. In addition to therapies, volunteers may stop by and offer to read or visit with your loved one while you take a break from caregiving.

As a caregiver, you will also receive all the hospice support you need. Your hospice team understands the stress you’re experiencing and is there to help. Regular meetings with the nurse or social worker will give you a chance to ask questions and share your feelings. Team members can talk to you about the process of dying, what to expect, and how your loved one will change in the coming days.

What is it like in a hospice facility?

A hospice center is different than a hospital. Although hard work is going on behind the scenes, the atmosphere is calm and unhurried. Staff take more time with patients and families, chatting and ensuring everyone is comfortable. Visitors are welcome day and night at most hospice centers, and most have space to accommodate family who want to stay overnight. Staff can also help out-of-town visitors get oriented to the area and help them find accommodations.

Hospice centers understand that visiting a loved one in hospice is stressful, so most have comfortable spaces for families to take a break and have a snack or drink. Some hospice centers have kitchens and play areas for young children, too.

Bereavement Care

Hospice isn’t just about your loved one. Caring for you and your family while you’re grieving is a big part of hospice work. Before and after your loved one passes on, the hospice team will help you plan how best to commemorate and celebrate your loved one, whatever your spiritual beliefs. The team is available to help you through the grieving process too, with support for a year after your loss.

Although many view hospice care as a sad situation, the comfort, compassion, and care families receive from hospice is a relief after an extended battle with illness. In fact, many families report wishing they’d considered hospice earlier in their journey. Focusing on quality of life adds richness to your loved one’s last days and having pain-free time together is a gift that benefits everyone.

Iowa City's Bird House provides exceptional hospice care in a home-like setting. Learn more here:

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