Terminal illness is a commonly used expression and most people have a general sense of what it means. The specifics of the term—what it means in practical terms and how those terms are defined and evaluated—become very important when determining if hospice care is an appropriate and necessary step in the care plan for terminally ill patients.

What Qualifies as a Terminal Illness?

The broadest definition of terminal illness, also known as “end stage disease,” indicates a condition or disease that is not able to be cured or treated and will result in death in the future, usually in six months or less. Terminal illnesses are also, by definition, progressive and will advance no matter what treatment is given.

The common symptoms of terminal illness can be broad and varied, but generally include the following:

  • Pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Delirium
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle weakness

How Hospice Care Can Help Terminally Ill Patients

Medication and therapy can help manage the symptoms of terminal illness and improve the quality of life of patients as they approach the end of life.

Hospice care also provides benefits that go beyond the physical, such as emotional and spiritual support, to both patients and their family and loved ones. Overall, hospice care aims to make the transition to the end of life as comfortable as possible.

Hospice care is typically a team effort, involving a collection of professionals who each play an important role in providing care. The team includes doctors, nurses, counselors, therapists, social workers, volunteers, and the patient’s own family and friends.

When Does Terminal Illness Qualify for Hospice Care?

Usually, a patient has to be in the final stages of a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less before hospice care becomes the recommended course of action.

That recommendation must be made by a doctor, who will perform a thorough examination that includes assessing life expectancy and other aspects of the patient’s condition. With the doctor’s certification, hospice care now becomes an available option.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of conditions that may qualify a patient for hospice care:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Coma
  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • HIV
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Stroke

In the US, the move to hospice care also has a few other requirements in addition to a doctor’s certification:

  • Private insurance, Medicare Part A, or Medicaid
  • The understanding that you will not seek curative treatment

If you’re considering a move to hospice care for ill family members or yourself, Hospice Group of SoCal can help. We provide chronic illness care for sick family members, as well as care for dying patients. Contact us today and we can start exploring your options together.