There are a number of myths about palliative care [PC] and hospice. Here are the most common—and the truth about them!
1. My doctors have given up on me and I will receive no more treatment. Unfortunately, many people believe this, partially because a doctor may say “There’s nothing more I can do”. What he’s really saying is he has no “cure” for the problem. A referral for PC or hospice then indicates a shift from trying inappropriate “curative” treatments to more realistic “comfort” focused therapies which will actually often help someone live longer!
2. It’s only for people with cancer. It’s easy to forget there are many diseases just as bad or worse than cancer. Anyone with a “Life Limiting Disease” [LLD] can benefit from PC and hospice. Life limiting means the disease would eventually cause death unless something else happens first, and includes conditions like: Alzheimer’s, Congestive Heart Failure, emphysema, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Strokes.
3. It’s only for old people. There are many younger folks—as in under age 65—with a LLD who have benefited tremendously from PC/Hospice.
4. It means I’m close to death. Although hospice requires a certification that the patient will die within six months if the disease runs its usual course, PC is available to anyone with a chronic or LLD. Many people live longer precisely because they receive PC/hospice: by improving comfort, patients eat better, socialize and enjoy life more, allowing them to live months longer than expected.
5. They dope you up & you sleep until you die. The main reason both doctors and patients may have this delusion is that we all too frequently receive referrals so late that the only option remaining is palliative sedation: using continuous morphine and other drugs to induce a state of sleep so that suffering can be relieved, allowing them to die peacefully, with dignity, and which also leaves the family with a much better closing image.
6. If I get morphine, I will stop breathing. Only if it is given in very large doses by injection, will someone stop breathing. The dosages used in our programs are usually small and only enough to control pain, shortness of breath, and general suffering. Studies confirm that there is no relationship between the dose given in PC/hospice programs and causing someone to die prematurely.