elder woman cared for in hospice center

How to Know When It’s Time for Hospice

Making medical decisions for a loved one is never an easy choice; you want what’s best for them, but the right option isn’t always the clearest one. When it comes to hospice care, many caregivers have a lot of questions about what it is, and when it’s time. 

What is Hospice Care?

There are different levels of hospice care available to patients:

  • In-home hospice care
  • Continuous hospice care
  • In-patient hospice care
  • Respite hospice care

While the same services are provided in all types of hospice care, they are designed to manage varying levels of comfort for a terminal patient who has up to six months left to live.

In-Home Hospice Care

Routine home care attends to the patient wherever they live, whether it’s a private residence, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility. 

Continuous Hospice Care

In this scenario, the hospice caregiver lives with the patient to provide the necessary care.

In-Patient Hospice care

If managing comfort at home becomes too difficult, a patient may be admitted to a facility for a time, with the goal of eventually returning home for continuous or in-home hospice care.

Respite Hospice Care

As the name suggests, respite hospice is intended to give primary caregivers a break from their duties for a time. 

What Hospice Workers Do

The caregivers who work in hospice perform a variety of medical tasks and also offer emotional care for patients in the last stages of their lives. All their efforts go toward ensuring the quality of life for the patient, and their roles may be:

  • Bereavement Specialist
  • Chaplain (or other religious leader)
  • Nurse
  • Physician
  • Social Worker
  • Therapist

Working together, these healthcare professionals help patients maintain dignity, feel comfortable, and keep loved ones informed of the next steps in care.

Knowing When It’s Time for Hospice

When someone is living with a terminal or degenerative illness, it can be hard to accept. Hospice care might be seen as a last resort. However, hospice may be beneficial for a patient when they still have months left to live. Hospice is intended to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their loved ones. Here are some signs it may be time for hospice:

Treatment Options Have Been Exhausted

For patients living with cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or similar illnesses, sometimes treatment stops working. Or, the patient decides they no longer want to undergo aggressive treatment because it’s doing more harm than good. In this case, hospice is designed to increase comfort by managing symptoms instead of treating the illness.

Frequent Hospitalizations

When a patient’s illness sends them to the hospital regularly, hospice might be a better choice. Having hospice care at home can help them avoid exposure to other illnesses at the ER or doctor’s office, helping them be more comfortable for longer.

Change in Mental Capacity

Does your loved one seem confused, restless, or agitated? Are they having trouble communicating as they used to? Changes in mental capacity can be a sign it’s time to consider hospice care to help patients transition from the life of independence they’re used to.

Loss of Appetite

In the final chapter of someone’s life, they may lose their appetite as their body loses the ability to digest food properly. This can lead to a host of other medical issues, which can be managed by hospice care to increase the comfort of the patient.


When a loved one is living with incontinence, hospice care can help restore dignity for the patient. Sometimes a person is prone to withdraw socially when they don’t know how to manage incontinence; hospice care can provide support.

Inability to Perform Routine Tasks

Whether due to cognitive or physical decline, when a loved one can no longer perform their regular, daily tasks such as bathing, preparing food, or cleaning around the house, it may be a sign hospice care is required. 

Unpaid Caregivers are Burned Out

Last but not least, if loved ones offering unpaid care are getting burned out, it’s time to consider hospice. Shift the responsibility to professionals who can shoulder some of the emotional and literal weight of caring for a terminal patient. It will help the patient feel like less of a burden, and give you the bandwidth to spend quality time with your loved one in their last days.

Hospice care focuses on the patient rather than the disease and provides physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual resources for everyone involved.

When it is time for hospice care, be sure that you have appropriate support in making the decision.