Hospice for Seniors: Cost, Eligibility, & More

Key Takeaways

  • Hospice care for elderly adults is designed to make seniors comfortable during their final days, focusing on symptom management and improving quality of life, rather than curing illness.
  • It’s a specialized type of medical care for individuals nearing the end of life due to terminal illnesses.
  • Often termed “comfort care,” its primary aim is to alleviate pain and emotional discomfort.
  • To commence hospice care, a physician must determine that the senior has less than six months of life expectancy.
  • The care involves an assessment, individualized care plan, and a multidisciplinary team approach.
  • Indicators for hospice include a senior’s consistent health decline and non-responsiveness to treatments.

Hospice care for elderly adults can be what many seniors need in order to feel comfortable and cared for during their final days of life.

Care plans from hospice programs focus on symptom management and improving quality of life for seniors, as opposed to making any attempts to treat or cure serious illness.

While it can be a difficult decision to put a loved one into hospice care, it can also be a decision that brings a sense of peace and comfort in knowing that your loved one will be able to make the most out of the time they have left.

What Is Hospice for the Elderly?

Hospice care is a specialized type of medical care that is meant for people with terminal illness who are nearing the end of life. People can enter hospice at any age, but it is most common in the elderly and older adults.

This type of care is sometimes called comfort care, because its primary focus is on making patients comfortable and minimizing their pain and discomfort, both physical and emotional.

During hospice, seniors end all curative treatments and start preparing for the end of their lives, though some seniors will remain in hospice for several years.

How Hospice Services Work

In order to begin hospice service, the senior’s physician must make a clinical determination that the senior has less than six months of life expectancy given the current course of their illness or condition.

Once the senior has a referral from a health care provider, they can choose their own hospice and call to set up an initial assessment. Their physician or one of their family members can also make this call.

During this assessment, a member of the hospice facility’s nursing staff will ask a series of questions to evaluate the senior’s needs and desires for care.

An individualized care plan will then be determined for the senior, so they can remain comfortable with minimal medical treatment.

During their time in hospice, a senior will likely work with many different members of a hospice care team, including physicians, registered nurses, chaplains, and social workers.

When Do Seniors Need Hospice?

No one wants to have to make the decision to put a loved one in hospice, but there are times when it becomes necessary and unavoidable.

Signs that a senior may need hospice include:

  • They have experienced a steady decline in health and are not responding to treatments
  • Treatments and therapies for their medical conditions are causing them more pain and discomfort than is worth it to continue
  • They have made a lot of trips to the hospital or ER recently
  • They are experiencing symptoms like severe weight loss, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or severe fatigue
  • They are unable to do basic things to take care of themselves and have lost the motivation to attempt activities of daily living such as toileting or feeding

Types of Hospice Care for Seniors

There are a few levels of care and different types of hospice care options, depending on the senior’s condition and what is needed to make them feel comfortable.

In-Home Hospice

With in-home hospice care, the senior remains in place within their own home or the home of a loved one, and their hospice care team comes to them.

Many seniors prefer homecare when it is possible, because it allows them to be in a comfortable environment and spend as much time with family as possible before passing.

Nursing Home Hospice

Nursing home hospice can take place in any type of nursing home, as well as in hospitals or specialized centers for hospice care.

This can be the best option for seniors who have more serious medical conditions or who do not have their own homes or cannot stay with family members.

Hospice in Assisted Living Facilities

Hospice in an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility allows a senior to remain in a familiar environment and experience a smooth transition into palliative care.

Many assisted living facilities will allow their residents to convert to hospice care from assisted living, where personal care and any medications used in pain management will continue, as well as assistance with activities of daily living.

Hospice in Memory Care Facilities

Hospice in memory care facilities is hospice care for patients with dementia or other memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

The staff who work in these facilities are usually specially trained to work with dementia patients. The facility may provide additional security to protect patients from wandering or getting lost.

Types of Hospice Services

While the range of services that you can find in hospice care will vary slightly depending on the specific facility, there are certain services that generally come standard with hospice care.

Types of hospice services include:

  • Counseling services: Counseling is often provided to both the senior and their loved ones and can include spiritual support and grief or bereavement counseling
  • Medication management: While medications to improve or cure a condition are not given while a person is in hospice, they still have access to pain management medications to make them more comfortable
  • Respite care: This is temporary care that is provided in order to give a break or time off to the senior’s family caregiver
  • Nursing and medical services: Medical services are meant to make the senior more comfortable, and include routine medical care, evaluations, and diagnostic testing when necessary
  • Personal care: This includes hygienic care and help with activities of daily living, usually two or three times per week
  • Medical equipment: For in-home hospice care, medical equipment may be provided such as oxygen units, wheelchairs, and bandages

Top Benefits of Hospice for Your Aging Loved One

While no one wants to be in the position of having to think about hospice care for a loved one, it can help to know that there are many benefits to its use.

Top benefits of hospice for your aging loved one include:

  • They can have their pain minimized and comfort maximized to make the most out of their final days.
  • Hospice can extend their life and allow for more time with loved ones, even if this means just a few extra days or weeks.
  • It allows them to die at home in a familiar environment, where they are comfortable and can be surrounded by loved ones.
  • Hospice can provide comfort and emotional support for the caregivers and loved ones of elderly seniors as well as the senior.
  • This type of care allows seniors to maintain a sense of control over their end-of-life care.
  • Hospice gives both the senior and their loved one time to prepare for their death and guidance as they do so.

Senior Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care

Senior hospice care and palliative care are similar in that they are both focused on minimizing pain, maximizing comfort, and improving overall quality of life in patients.

The key difference between the two types of care is that palliative care is for anyone who has a chronic medical condition or terminal illness, but who is not necessarily at the end of life.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is for seniors who are preparing for the end of life and have discontinued the majority of treatments for any medical conditions they have.

Essentially, senior hospice care includes palliative care, but palliative care can come at any stage of life and is used frequently outside of hospice care.

Senior Hospice Care vs. End-of-Life Care

Like palliative care, end-of-life care is also a major component of hospice care. This type of care, however, is reserved for the final stages of a person’s life — usually the last week or two.

Hospice care, on the other hand, can last for several years, though it is usually entered into when a person has a life expectancy of six months or less.

End-of-life care services may include:

  • Funeral and burial planning
  • Faith-based counseling
  • Counseling for emotional distress
  • Grief counseling for loved ones
  • Will planning

Cost of Hospice for Seniors With Terminal Illness

According to various sources, the average cost of hospice ranges widely from around $150 to $1,000 per day, depending on the level of care needed by the senior.

However, as long as a senior has Medicare Part A and they choose a hospice care agency or facility that is Medicare-approved, their hospice care will be completely covered.

To be further eligible for this coverage, the senior must agree to comfort-related medical care only and have their physician certify that they have a life expectancy of less than six months.

For seniors without Medicare or who would prefer hospice care through a private agency, these services are also covered through most private insurance plans or state-funded insurance plans like Medicaid.

What to Look for in a Hospice Care Program

When choosing a hospice care program for your elderly loved one, it is essential to look for a program that is of high quality and features certain marks of care.

Licensing & Certification

When looking at hospice programs, ensure that both the staff members and the facility have the proper licensing and certification that is required in your state.

Types of certifications that hospice workers can have include:

  • Certified hospice and palliative nurse (CHPN) — registered nurses
  • Certified hospice and palliative nursing assistant (CHPNA) — nursing assistants
  • Advanced Palliative and Hospice Social Work Certification (APS-C) — social workers

Program Accreditation

Accreditation is an optional process that hospice care programs can undertake that involves a comprehensive evaluation to ensure that they meet specific criteria and standards of care.

Popular accreditation agencies for hospice care programs are the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC), the Joint Commission, and the Community Health Accreditation Program (CHAP).

Positive Ratings

A good hospice program will have high ratings on Google, Facebook, and other social media sites and search engines.

They will also have positive testimonials available from past clients, and may even come with personal recommendations from friends or family members.

Tips for Choosing Hospice Care for Your Elderly Loved One

Your loved one’s comfort at the end of their life should be of the utmost importance, and choosing the right hospice for them can make all the difference.

Tips for choosing hospice care for your elderly loved one include:

  • Match the needs of your loved one to hospice care that covers those needs.
  • Ask your loved one if they have a preference for in-home or nursing facility care.
  • If your loved one chooses hospice in a nursing home, try to find a location that is close to loved ones or family members.
  • Choose hospice care that is covered by your loved one’s insurance so they won’t incur extra costs at the end of life.
  • Look into the experience of staff members, particularly physicians and nurses.
  • Look at reviews and testimonials for the hospice facility.

Questions to Ask Hospice Care Programs

Before choosing a hospice program for your elderly loved one, be sure to ask certain questions related to their care.

Questions to ask hospice care programs include:

  • Is this hospice accredited and licensed?
  • What services do you provide and what services do you explicitly not provide?
  • Are there limitations on the length of services?
  • What are the credentials and certifications of the staff members here?
  • Are you Medicare-approved?
  • What types of insurance and payments do you take?
  • How involved are family members in care?

Hospice Care for Elderly FAQs

The following are questions that are frequently asked about hospice care for elderly loved ones.

It may be time for an elderly person to go into hospice care if their condition has declined over a period of time and they are no longer responding positively to medications or treatments.

It is ultimately up to the senior and their family to decide when it is time to go into hospice care, though it may also come at the recommendation of the senior’s physician.

Hospice care means that an elderly person is very ill and approaching their end of life, and no longer focusing on curing their illness or getting better.

Instead, they are focusing on their comfort and quality of life and spending as much time with loved ones as possible.

An elderly person may be in need of hospice care if they have faced a rapid decline in health, have stopped responding to treatments or medications, and have experienced frequent hospitalizations.

People who need hospice are often in a lot of physical pain that may affect their ability to sleep, eat, or complete basic daily tasks.

Because people in hospice are approaching the end of their lives, hospice care does not include any type of treatments or therapies that are meant to cure or improve their underlying illness.

Further, hospice care does not usually cover the cost of medications or medical equipment unless their purpose is to make the elderly person more comfortable.

A high-quality hospice care program will first and foremost be accredited and have all the appropriate licenses and certifications for the state it is located in.

Other qualities to look for are the credentials and experience levels of the staff, and whether the facility has positive client testimonials and reviews on social media.

Find Hospice Care for Seniors Near You

Making the decision to put a senior loved one in hospice care can be devastating, and the process of finding quality care can bring about a lot of stress and other emotions.

When you are ready to begin the process of searching for hospice senior care, we are here to guide you and answer any questions you have along the way.

To learn more about senior care options or to find hospice care agencies near you, browse our directory of senior care facilities or contact us at any time with questions.

Written by: Aging with Care Editorial Staff

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