My father has had Alzheimer’s disease for over 10 years. When is it time to consider hospice care?

Hospice care is a type and philosophy of care that centers on the palliation of a terminally or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms and also attending to that patient’s emotional and spiritual needs. At end-stage Alzheimer’s disease, the goal of hospice is to keep that individual as comfortable as possible

Hospice care is provided by a team of professionals, which may include a medical director, the person’s attending physician, nurses, social workers, counselors, clergy and home health aides. Once hospice care is ordered by the physician, and the individual is enrolled, the team meets regularly to evaluate and coordinate a plan of care. One member of the team is always available, 24 hours a day, to address concerns. Hospice care can be offered at the individual’s home, in a nursing home or assisted-living facility or an in-house hospice care facility.

Hospice services only accept terminally ill individuals, and Alzheimer’s disease is a terminal illness. Since the disease can run from seven to 20 years, it is difficult to know when hospice care is warranted.

Generally, someone with Alzheimer’s is ready for a hospice when he/she becomes severely impaired in function, (no longer can walk or feed himself); becomes incontinent; experiences frequent choking episodes or has difficulty breathing, or significant weight loss. Additionally, the decision for hospice is made when the goals of the individual and family members are palliative and not life-prolonging.

The criteria for acceptance into hospice care includes:

  • Individual must be diagnosed by a licensed physician as having end-stage Alzheimer’s, with limited life-expectancy (six months or less);
  • The individual must live in the geographic boundary of the service;
  • The family/caregiver consents to services.

Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurance policies cover hospice costs.

In choosing a provider, consider reputation, staff training in Alzheimer’s and the plan of care developed by the staff. You might also ask for accreditations.

Visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization nhpco.org.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.