Patient Referral

If you or a loved one has received a doctor recommendation for hospice care, your first question may be how long do people live in hospice? Because every patient's condition is different, there is no single answer to that question.

Many people mistakenly think that hospice will hasten the demise of their loved one. The actual purpose of hospice is to improve quality of life for whatever time remains. And hospice patients whose conditions improve can opt out of hospice care and can renew it later if needed (more on that later).

Another misconception is that hospice care is only reserved for the final days of life. Hospice care can provide comfort and relief for months. Jon Radulovic, of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), was recently quoted as saying: “About 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries receive hospice for seven days or less—and we think that that’s far too short a time. Hospice is well-suited for months of life, not days.” The longer a loved one is on hospice, the longer that loved one can enjoy the time that’s left.

So how long can a loved one be on hospice? While the overall answer to the question “how long does hospice last” is dependent on the diagnoses, the maximum length of eligibility is six months. The remainder of this page explains. 

Qualifying for hospice care.

In order to receive hospice care, a patient must meet the hospice eligibility requirements established by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. According to Consumer Reports, if you have insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, and if two physicians deem it unlikely that you will live for more than six months, you are eligible for hospice coverage. In addition to covering actual services, Medicare allows for pre-election evaluation and counseling services.

See additional information on hospice eligibility requirements. 

What to expect during the final weeks and days of hospice.

To a hospice patient, the final weeks and days of life mean not only physical changes, but emotional and spiritual ones as well. So that you know what to look for, here are a few physical changes that can indicate end of life is nearing:

  • Skin may become mottled or cool to the touch 
  • Mental confusion 
  • Excessive sleeping 
  • Incontinence 
  • Change in breathing

 For more details on what to expect, download our free guide. 

Are patients ever discharged from hospice?

Yes, you might be surprised to learn that patients often are discharged from hospice. If their condition improves, treatment can be resumed. Patients must be given less than six months to live, so if their life expectancy changes to beyond six months, they will no longer be eligible for hospice care.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) cites several reasons for hospice discharge: 

  • The patient’s condition changes and is no longer terminal 
  • The patient opts out of hospice care 
  • The patient moves out of the hospice’s service area or transfers to another hospice 
  • The patient is discharged by the hospice for disruptive, abusive, or uncooperative behavior that impairs delivery of care to the patient or the ability of the hospice to operate effectively

It's important to note that patients have the right to appeal a hospice discharge if they believe services are prematurely curtailed. The Center for Medicare Advocacy offers tips on discharge planning for hospice patients.

Before your loved one's discharge, plan ahead for any required health services and the logistics surrounding them. Upon discharge, depending on where the patient was prior to hospice, he or she could return to a nursing home or long-term care facility, or back home.

If, however, a discharged patient's condition later deteriorates, he or she can be readmitted to hospice. Note that if the patient opts out of hospice care, that means revoking any assistance received from the Medicare hospice benefit, such as home visits, home medical equipment and supplies, and holistic or therapeutic services.

Overall, hospice is here to help the patient get the most out of the time that’s left. The benefits of hospice care, from increased comfort therapies, to services such as Crossroads’ Gift of a Day, can help the patient for as long as six months. If you or your loved one is terminal, there is no reason not to start making life better right now.

If you have any other questions regarding how long people live in hospice care, please contact us by selecting an option from the help center bar above.