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Health & Exercise Forum

Hospice Care Part 1 of 2: Focus on Life and Living

Nov 18, 2013

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumPart 1 of 2: “Hospice Care--- Place the Focus on Life and Living”

November is National Hospice Month! Each November, the community of hospice and palliative care professionals celebrates National Hospice Month. Although, at first glance, spotlighting the concept of death and dying may seem a bit gloomy, it’s actually the concept of quality of life and the focus on living that is truly being celebrated.

It is true that hospice serves those patients and their families who are on the journey of a serious or terminal illness. But as any hospice professional from the nurse to the social worker to the volunteer to the pastoral counselor will attest------our focus is ALWAYS on the value of life being maintained and the quality of living for each and every one of our patients.

Placing the focal point of hospice care on living, instead of dying, enables the patient and family to focus on:

  • maintaining/expanding personal relationships
  • reasonable exercise program
  • continuing religious and/or spiritual traditions
  • quality time with friends and family members
  • hobbies
  • completion of photo albums, scrapbooks, diaries, legacies

Remember that your hospice team will make suggestions to improve your pain and symptoms-----all with the ultimate goal of allowing you to live your life as fully and functionally as possible. Pain alleviation will allow for improved activities, help with personal care will conserve energy for visiting with family and friends, and allowing a volunteer into your home will give caregivers much needed time for rest and relaxation.

There are a number of myths surrounding hospice care--and this is good a time as ever to help dispel them.

Myth #1--- Hospice is for patients in the last days of their lives

Actually, hospice care was designed to care for patients and their families for the last 6 months of their lives----the longer patients are under the care of hospice professionals, the better their symptoms are controlled and the better their quality of living…..

Myth #2-- Pain medications are given in large doses to sedate the patient and hasten death

Pain medications are used in as small of doses as required to control pain, and to maintain patients’ alertness, always focusing on living life to the fullest. Medications are never given to hasten death, only to control pain and maintain quality of life.

Myth #3-- Once patients start hospice services, death will come soon

The statistics on this issue are interesting. In a major study, patients who received hospice care for congestive heart failure actually lived 29 days longer!!! Also, on average 15% of patients are actually discharged from hospice services because of significant improvement in symptoms.

Myth #4-- Patients receiving hospice services cannot leave the home or travel

The truth is that patients receiving hospice care can drive, travel as able, go to bingo/hairdresser/casino, actually come and go as they are able. So the goal is to improve symptoms so that patients can enjoy their lives as fully as possible while on the journey of a serious illness.

So although the topic of death and dying has been rather taboo in the US, hospice professionals celebrate the living potential that their patients still have. The focus is on quality of relationships, maintaining a functional lifestyle and living the life they were meant to live. Hospice professionals also celebrate the many lives they have improved, all the lives they have touched and the fact that they were chosen to dedicate their professional lives to helping others live more fully……

To find out which hospices serve your community, call NHPCO’s HelpLine at 1-800-658-8898 or visit

Medical Contributor: Ralph DeMario, MD, CMO, Hospice of the Sacred Heart

Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – Every Monday- Next week read Hospice Care Part 2 in the Scranton Times-Tribune. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.