"Sometimes patients live longer because their pain is managed and their symptoms are palliated," Pacurar said.
Another myth is that hospice care hastens death through the use of medications. "That's about as far from the truth as it can possibly be," Pacurar said. The focus really is on using knowledge of painkillers and symptom treatments to create a better quality of life for terminally ill people, she said.
In many cases, she explained, people are being over-medicated, and hospice workers can effectively treat their pain while restoring some lucidity to them. "We've had families come up to us and say, 'Dad was so far out of it until you came in,'" Pacurar said.
One mistake made by many is to delay end-of-life discussions because the subject is painful, Schumacher said.
Even doctors apparently fall prey to this instinct. A survey of cancer physicians found that 65 percent said they would discuss with a patient the fact that the person had four to six months to live even though they were still feeling well, but only one in four doctors would discuss hospice with that patient.
"Don't wait too long," Schumacher said. "Don't wait too late until you get your loved one the care they need."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about finding care at the end of life.
A companion article explains how a California woman refutes a hospice myth.
SOURCES: J. Donald Schumacher, Psy.D., president and chief executive, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; Kathleen Pacurar, president and chief executive, San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Medicine; Jan. 10, 2010, Cancer, online
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