Can hospice care actually prolong life?

by Grace Blanchard, RN, CHPN

Families sometimes resist hospice because they believe without aggressive care, their loved one will die sooner. Or they believe hospice will start a morphine drip and euthanize their loved one.

The truth is quite the contrary. The goal of hospice is not to prolong or hasten death, but to let nature take its course. However, at least one study suggests that the holistic approach to symptom management provided by hospice can actually improve quantity, as well as quality, of life.

One study, published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, compared survival periods of terminally ill patients. For the six disease populations, the mean survival was 29 days longer for hospice patients than for non-hospice patients. End-stage CHF patients in this study lived an average of 81 days longer when in hospice care! According to the study, “…for certain terminally ill patients, hospice is associated with longer survival times.”

And what about overdosing our patients on morphine? Many families (and even some healthcare providers) believe that morphine and other opioids, though necessary for symptom relief, hasten death, especially considering the large amounts given at end of life. Studies published in such journals as The Lancet, Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, Internal Medicine Journal, and Cancer dispute those myths. In the Cancer study, for example, the medical charts of hospice patients were reviewed for length of survival after admission. According to the authors, “…we observed no significant difference in survival among patients who received low, moderate, high or very high morphine doses.”

While my experience is limited to my own practice, many patients have reported to me that they feel better with the extra attention hospice care provides. Our holistic approach, treating body, mind and spirit, helps relieve physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms for both the patients and their families. As clinicians, we know that stress affects our bodies in negative ways, so it follows that the relief of stress will have positive results.

Source:  Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Vol 33 March 07


About the author

I am passionate about sharing senior citizen news and resources discovered from both my profession and personal journey.

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