In a word, the answer is “no.” Hospice care neither speeds up nor slows down the dying process. It might appear that, after aggressive hospital treatments are stopped, terminal illnesses would progress at a more rapid pace.
Various research projects have shown that patients on hospice care in many cases actually live longer than those with similar conditions receiving treatments such as chemotherapy. Factors other than purely medical ones—such as the comfort of sitting at home in one’s favorite chair—may play a role in those results.
The Boston doctor who wrote an excellent article about hospice care in The New Yorker magazine in 2010 cited an actual study of 4,493 Medicare patients on hospice. The research compared average survival times of patients on hospice versus those not on hospice care.
That research revealed that patients with pancreatic cancer live, on average, three weeks longer on hospice care. Those with lung cancer had six weeks more survival time on hospice care. Persons with congestive heart failure had, on average, three additional months of life on hospice. There was no significant difference for those with breast cancer, prostate cancer or colon cancer.
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Of course, there is no way to predict how a particular patient’s conditions will progress under hospice care. And every individual is different.
We sometimes read of celebrities going on hospice care and then, just a few days later, dying. This gives the wrong message that hospice care is only for those who are days away from passing. It also implies that being admitted to hospice care means a patient will die in short order.
Along with communicating that hospice care does not speed up the dying process, all hospices, including Hope Hospice, must continue telling the general public and the medical community that hospice care is not just for the very few last days of a person’s life. Most hospices frequently receive comments from family members and other survivors who say, “We wish we had called you sooner.”