Q. I’ve just heard that an acquaintance of mine has advanced lung cancer and is receiving hospice care. Can you tell me exactly what hospice is and how it works?

A. As the population ages, the issue of quality end of life care grows more urgent than ever. Most of us have heard of hospice care (or may even have seen scenes of it in medical dramas on TV), yet we often don’t really understand what’s involved until someone we know needs it. Hospice’s goal is to improve quality of life for terminally ill patients and help them die with dignity. Hospice aims at controlling pain, managing symptoms and offering practical, emotional and spiritual support—not curative care. A team of medical personnel, social workers, home aides, chaplains and volunteers work together to meet the patient’s needs. The composition of the team varies with the individual situation. For example, trained volunteers may prepare meals if necessary, handle food shopping or other tasks, and/or simply provide company.

Patients who are expected to die within six months are eligible for hospice services. Most of us want to die at home among the people we love, and that’s where care usually takes place. Medicare covers hospice services, as do most private health insurance plans. Hospice is also available at some hospitals, in separate hospice centers, and in some nursing homes and other facilities, although insurance may or may not cover it.

Hospice offers comfort and support to the patient’s loved ones, as well, such as training in the use of certain medical equipment, and bereavement counseling. A trained volunteer may stay with the patient to give family caregivers a brief rest to refresh and refuel.

For further information, or to find a hospice program in your area, visit or contact:

The American Hospice Foundation, www.americanhospice.org, 1-800-347-1413

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, www.nhpco.org, 1-800-658-8898.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  


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