Planning for end-of-life care in senior living is an important part of quality of life.

Hospice care is an important component of end-of-life care; it can help alleviate pain, enhance your loved one’s quality of life and offer caregivers peace of mind.

Understanding all that hospice care in assisted living can offer and how to plan for it can seem overwhelming. Many assisted living communities help make the transition to hospice as seamless as possible, working alongside families to ensure loved ones needs are fully met.

What is Hospice Care?
The word “hospice” used to carry a negative connotation—and for some it still does. But some of the trepidation can be alleviated though education. Once people understand what hospice care really does, they embrace what it can do for their loved one, says Kaitlyn Woodward, Memory Care Director at AlmaVia of San Rafael. “[Hospice] is there to enhance quality of life though end of life,” she explains.

Hospice is a care program, often covered by Medicare, which is provided to terminally ill patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less. It is designed to provide comfort and quality of life. Once a patient’s primary care physician makes the referral to hospice and a patient is approved, she will receive access to a team of trained individuals—including nurses, counselors, home health aides and volunteers—to help provide comfort and reduce suffering.

Hospice can also include services for the entire family, such as help with household chores and bereavement counseling. These services can be extremely meaningful as families go through a tough time. “It’s a wonderful experience for residents and families to receive that extra care,” says Rev. Donene Blair, Chaplain at AlmaVia of San Rafael. “They really care for the whole family.”

A lack of understanding about what hospice really is causes some families to put off starting to receive care. It is important to not wait because the sooner your loved one can receive hospice care after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, the more comfortable she will be and the higher quality of life she will experience, says Laurie McKay, Care Transition Nurse at Heartland Hospice.

Starting hospice care doesn’t mean giving up. Residents can receive all the benefits of hospice while continuing to enjoy life in their community. “Usually there’s no change to the care plan except for enhancement when hospice comes in,” says Woodward. “They supplement our care, but we are still 100 percent in charge of the care plan of that resident.”

How to Plan for Hospice Care in California Assisted Living
One of the most important steps when planning for hospice care in an assisted living community is to verify that your family member’s community has received a hospice waiver from the state, says Blair. If hospice care is something that you think will be important for your family, you may want to add this to your list of questions to ask on a visit.

The decision to start hospice should be a mutual conversation between the patient, family and the senior living community. The hospice team should work with both the community and family to provide care. “It can be fairly seamless, actually,” says Blair.

It’s important to note that not all hospices offer the same services, so look for one that fits your family’s needs, suggests McKay. “It’s really about the relationship you’re going to have with your team,” she says. Independent accreditation organizations certify hospice services to ensure that they meet standards for quality and safety.

Throughout the time that your loved one is receiving hospice care, is important to meet with the individuals on the care team to make sure that they are a good fit for your family and that everyone is on the same page. “Making sure that the circle of communication is always open [is essential],” says Woodward. “We’re all here working as team.”

End-of-life discussions are never easy, but understanding what hospice care is, how to navigate the process in assisted living, talking to your loved ones, and gathering a team of people to help your family can help you feel supported and cared for during a difficult time.