Dying with Dignity: The Truth About Hospice Care

December 5, 2012

Have you ever thought about how you want to die...or where you want to die? It's something most people don't want to consider -- but will likely need to at some point.

After nearly 40 years of marriage...Judy Lucas found out she was losing the man she loved.

"You just had that moment where you stood there and cried," said Lucas.

Her husband, George, was diagnosed with fatal pancreatic cancer. When chemo and other harsh treatments stopped working... he chose hospice care.

"Their big role is the comfort of the patient," said Lucas.

Doctor Debra Blue says many misunderstand what hospice really is.

"There's still a fair number of people who think all we manage is cancer," said Blue, Medical Director at Hospice of Wake County in North Carolina.

Only 35 percent of Dr. Blue's hospice patients have cancer. She also cares for people with a variety of conditions like heart and kidney problems.

Another myth: hospice is expensive. A 2007 Duke University study found people who die under hospice care cost the Medicare system $2,300 less than people who don't use hospice.

The next myth: hospice is only for the last few days of life.

"I think waiting too long is the biggest mistake that I see," said Blue.

Blue says 30 percent of hospice patients die in the first week. Dr. Blue believes starting it sooner can help patients take advantage of pain and symptom management for longer.

Our last myth: hospice equals an earlier death. The fact is...

"The average person on hospice lives roughly 30 days longer," Blue said.

Hospice helped Judy Lucas say goodbye to George. She says, because of it, the last days were peaceful for him and her.

"If you get the patient comfortable, the family is going to be comfortable," Lucas said.

Here's an interesting fact: In the early 1900's, dying took place almost exclusively at home. Most homes actually had special rooms to lay out the bodies, but once death became commercialized and funeral parlors took over, those "death rooms" changed to "living rooms" in American homes.

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