Death and Hospice Care
The way we approach dying in America has changed dramatically over the course of a generation, and it has a lot to do with changes in how we live. Since 1970, the average life expectancy in the United States increased by nearly a decade. Of course no single factor is responsible for that increase. In general, Americans better understand how lifestyle impacts health and make better decisions as a result. Improved medical treatments – especially for the elderly – also play an important role. Take cancer, for example. According to National Institute of Health, in 1975 the average 5-year survival rate for all cancers was 50%. By 2007, that number had increased to 69%. The same is true for heart disease. While it’s still the leading cause of death in the United States, mortality rates have declined dramatically since the 1960’s. Death from stroke, for instance, has declined a breathtaking 75% since the early 60’s. So in short, Americans are living longer lives because they’re surviving diseases that would have likely claimed their parents.
While these statistics point to a healthier society as a whole, it also means Americans are living longer with chronic and terminal disease. An increase in the 5-year cancer survival rate doesn’t mean more people are being cured. In large part, it means that medicine has become more effective at managing the symptoms and progression of cancers. This, in turn, has an impact on how we process death and dying. For many Americans, death is no longer an event to be experienced but instead becomes a process to be endured.
The Rise of Hospice Care
The rise of hospice care in the United States has occurred concurrently with this life expectancy increase. Dame Cicely Saunders – the pioneer of modern hospice care – first introduced her philosophy to the United States during a 1965 visit to the Yale School of Nursing. It took another 10 years before the first hospice facility in United States opened. During this time, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her seminal On Death and Dying, which introduced the world to the 5 stages of grief. After interviewing hundreds of people facing death, Ross argued that society should treat the seriously ill and dying with compassionate care. In the intervening 40 years, hospice growth exploded. In 2014 there were more than 5,800 facilities operating in the U.S. treating more than 1.6 million patients. This speaks to the perceptual shift happening in the country. Now more than ever, Americans understand they’ll need to make choices about how to face their own death. And hospice care is far preferable to being institutionalized in a hospital or nursing home.
Hospice Care in Practice
When put into practice, hospice care is often a profound experience for patients and their families. Freed from the surprise of a sudden loss, hospice becomes a time of healing and bonding as families and patients come to accept death together. Hospice doesn’t make a loss any easier, but it does provide a useful framework for processing loss.
If you’d like to learn more about how hospice care works – either for you or someone you love – we’d be happy to talk. Take a look at our list of services and then give us a call at (602)-497-4100. Southland Hospice provides the greater Phoenix area with compassionate and competent hospice services and we’re passionate about sharing what we know with our community.