What is hospice care?

Hospice care helps people who have advanced, life-limiting illnesses to spend their final days comfortably, with dignity, control and good quality of life. People in hospice care receive medical treatment to ease their symptoms, including pain. They can also receive counseling, spiritual support and other services designed to help them through this most difficult time in their lives.

What is the difference between hospice care and palliative care?

  • Hospice care supports people during the time that treatment options for their life-limiting illness have been exhausted. Hospice provides care that helps people to feel more comfortable. Hospice care also helps family members and other caregivers.
  • Palliative care is part of hospice care. It’s for people still being treated for serious illnesses. Palliative care helps their symptoms and the side effects of treatment.

When would I need hospice care?

When people have a serious illness, they often focus on the process of treating the illness. Thinking about hospice takes the focus off the illness and puts it on how they want to spend the last weeks or months of their lives. It’s an opportunity to understand how hospice programs and services can help them and their loved ones navigate the end of life.

Most people decide to enter hospice after discussing the idea with their healthcare provider, family and other loved ones. You might seek hospice care when:

  • Your illness is progressing despite medical treatment.
  • Your healthcare provider advises all treatment options have been tried.
  • You decide the consequences of medical treatment such as side effects outweigh the benefits. Your healthcare provider believes you have less than six months to live.

When my healthcare provider recommends hospice care, does that mean they've given up on me?

If your healthcare provider recommends hospice care, it’s another example of their commitment to your wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that you have the final say about enrolling in hospice or continuing treatment. And if you decide against hospice, it’s important to remember you can always change your mind.

Additional Details

What happens before I receive hospice care?

You and your family and/or loved ones will have been through very difficult moments in the days, weeks or months leading up to a decision to enroll in hospice. Before you decide on hospice care, you, your family and/or loved ones and your healthcare provider will:

  • Discuss your illness' prognosis and conclude you want hospice care.
  • Recognize you have six or fewer months to live.
  • Determine the life support measures healthcare providers should take as your illness progresses. You have the final say about life support measures healthcare providers should use.

Do I have to be in the hospital to receive hospice care?

No, you don’t have to be in the hospital to receive hospice care. The goal of hospice is for you to be comfortable throughout your final days. You have options that are guided by the amount and kind of hospice care you might need.

What are my hospice care options?

There are four levels of hospice. The levels are based on daily rates Medicare pays hospice providers. Those levels are:

  • Routine home care. Your family and/or loved ones care for you at home and you receive regular visits from hospice team members.
  • Continuous home care. Hospice team members provide short-term in-home nursing care as needed so you can remain in your home.
  • General inpatient care. You’re receiving hospice care in a facility because you have pain or other symptoms that can’t be managed at home.
  • Respite care. You receive short-term temporary hospice care in a facility to give your caregivers a rest.

Hospice care is intended to help you be comfortable throughout the rest of your life and to give your choices about your care.

What can I expect from hospice care?

Hospice care is designed to help you have a good quality of life. Healthcare providers do that by offering:

  • Medicine and other treatments to ease your symptoms.
  • Mental health support, such as counseling to cope with feeling lonely or afraid.
  • Spiritual care.
  • Programs that improve your quality of life such as art and music therapy.
  • Emotional support for your family and other loved ones.

Will I still receive medical treatment?

Hospice is focused on care rather than a cure. You’ll still receive medical treatment to ease your symptoms, like pain, but you won't receive treatment for your illness.

Will I receive antibiotics if I develop an infection?

Your hospice care team will work to keep you comfortable. Generally speaking, hospice care includes treating infections that require antibiotics, such as antibiotics to treat pneumonia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I change my mind and resume medical treatment for my terminal illness?

Yes, you can always choose to resume medical treatment for your illness. But you will have to leave hospice care to receive the treatment. This is your decision, and you can always return to hospice care.

What happens if I change my mind about life support measures?

You can change your mind and ask for life support measures such as:

  • Intravenous and tube feedings to manage nutrition and hydration.
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to restart your heart.
  • Medical ventilation so that a machine breathes for you.

What happens if I don’t die within six months?

Living with an advanced, life-limiting illness can drain you physically and emotionally. It's not unusual for people to feel less stressed after entering hospice and live longer than expected. Should that happen, your healthcare provider can recommend that you continue hospice care.

How can hospice care help my family?

Hospice care does more than take care of people at the end of life. It also helps those affected by a loved one's illness and death:

  • You might receive hospice care at home, with family members as your primary caregivers. If so, hospice might offer respite care, giving your family a chance to recharge.
  • Hospice offers programs to help family members while you are in hospice.
  • Your family can receive grief counseling.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

No one likes to think about death and dying, much less talking about your death with those you love. But having those difficult conversations now can make it easier for you, your family and/or loved ones to make decisions about your healthcare if you develop a life-limiting illness. Having the option of hospice care helps you to have those difficult discussions knowing that you will be comfortable and able to live as you choose. Talk to your healthcare provider about advanced care planning. Advanced care planning will help you consider your healthcare options so you and your loved ones can have thoughtful conversations about how you want to live the rest of your life, including end-of-life care.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/03/2021.


  • Roth, Allen R., Canedo, Angelo R. Primary Care. Introduction to Hospice and Palliative Care. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31375182/) Accessed 7/13/2021.
  • National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. What is hospice care? (https://palliativedoctors.org/hospice/care) Accessed 7/13/2021
  • MedlinePlus. Hospice Care. (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000467.htm) Accessed 7/13/2021.

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