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Caring for aging parents

Understanding hospice: myths, realities and costs

Each year, millions of families face a difficult decision: How do you best care for a loved who is nearing the end of their life? Many turn to hospice care.

There are many common misconceptions about hospice, which can lead some to dismiss it as an option. The reality is, as you and your loved ones move through retirement and focus on estate planning, thinking about health issues becomes more important and end-of-life care is potentially part of that.

Understanding basic facts about hospice may help families make more educated choices if and when the time comes to consider care options for a loved one.

Hospice is an end-of-life care option for people who have terminal illnesses, expect to live less than six months and are forgoing additional treatment for that particular illness.

A team of specialists and professionals provide care; they seek to make patients comfortable and give them the highest quality of life possible during their remaining time.

Many refer to hospice as a "philosophy of care." In this respect, it's not about providing care in a specific place, but rather ensuring patients have comfort and dignity while addressing emotional, mental and social needs.

Myths vs. realities

When it comes to understanding hospice care, there are a lot of myths. Here are some of the realities of hospice care.

Myth   A doctor makes the decision about hospice care.

Reality — A doctor can certainly recommend hospice care. However, the final decision comes from the patient, their family members, loved ones and those in charge of end-of-life decisions, including the person who holds medical power of attorney. For many, hospice is an option to start discussing from the time of diagnosis.

Myth — You have to change doctors in hospice.

Reality — You are still in charge of your medical decisions, that includes your provider. While many hospice care providers have a team of doctors and nurses, they also encourage consistent updates and communication to the patient's primary care physician so they are involved throughout the process.

Myth — Hospice care is only for cancer patients.

Reality — Hospice is for anyone diagnosed with an end-stage disease or life-limiting illness. Cancer is certainly included, but so are heart, kidney and lung diseases, as well as Parkinson's and dementia.

Myth — Hospice care is where you go to die.

Reality — Hospice care is often provided in a variety of senior housing options, from your home to a long-term care facility or hospital. Research has shown that those in hospice care often live slightly longer and experience higher satisfaction with care compared to those who don't choose hospice.

The cost of hospice

Medicare helps cover the costs of hospice care for those who are terminally ill with less than six months of life expectancy. However, that doesn't mean it covers 100% of all costs.

For instance, Medicare does not cover room and board if you live at home, or in an assisted living facility. Patients may also have a co-pay up to $5 for prescription drugs, if it's not covered by Medicare Part D, as well as costs for inpatient respite care.

For those not on Medicare, there are other options to explore. Check Medicaid or private insurance to see coverage and eligibility requirements in your state. Work closely with a financial  professional to determine other options.

When it comes to estate planning, the financial impact of health issues should always be an important factor. That's especially true once you move into the final phase of retirement, where illnesses are more common.

It's never too early to start thinking about these potential scenarios. The more you understand and plan for the potential costs of health issues now, the more prepared you'll be to assist your loved ones in the future.

Learn about how to talk to your loved ones about medical power of attorney.


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