In an article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the authors provide a review of relevant research with regard to end-of-life care for cancer patients, and they identify the ways that hospice care assists patients with advanced cancer and their loved ones who become caregivers. Ways in which hospice care can improve are also highlighted.

Priorities for Cancer Patients at the End-of-Life

The researchers observe that several studies have sought to explore the priorities of patients with advanced cancer and that of their caregiver for end-of-life care.  Some of the most commonly indicated priorities were related to the following:

  • Pain and symptom management
  • Feeling well enough to spend time with loved ones
  • Dealing with matters of business and legacy that had yet to be taken care of

As a result, the researchers state that “hospice care services have grown rapidly to support families and communities to care for people at home (including in skilled nursing facilities) through excellence in physical symptom control, psychological support, spiritual care, and support for caregivers.”

Mitigating the Burden of Symptoms

According to the research, hospice care allows for improvement of symptom management in issues that are commonly expected at the end-of-life. Symptom mitigation for advanced cancer patients nearing the end-of-life often involves addressing one or more of the following common symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Delirium

The inability to feel pain was identified by the article as commonly the priority for patients and their loved ones over any other symptom. The evidence suggests that hospice care offers superior pain management to patients. Furthermore, it is noted that another priority symptom, delirium, which includes changes in cognitive function, illusions from hallucinating, and disruptions of sleep and wake cycles, can be treated with excellent nursing care.  Nurses can treat reversible causes, assist in orienting the patient, and provide appropriate hydration and nourishment.

Optimal Integration within End-of-Life Care

The researchers encourage practitioners to explain the prognosis of rapidly declining advanced cancer patients with them, and refer them to hospice services. Optimal end-of-life care for cancer patients, as noted by the article includes:

  • Every Health Professional Having Competency in Core End-of-Life Care Skills:  This consists of identifying the end-of-life status, understanding the key tenets of symptom management and interdisciplinary care, conducting patient-centered, effective communication and shared decision-making, executing excellent clinical skills in thorough bedside evaluation, and engaging with empathy and compassion.
  • Care from a Team-Based Approach:  The article explains that patients tend to be more likely to express their concerns and disclose information about more issues when an interdisciplinary team is providing care and since the patient-identified needs are extensive at the end-of-life, multiple health clinicians working collectively is essential to accomplish the most optimal outcomes for the patient.
  • Collaboration and Communication Between Hospice and Other Care Providers:  Most advanced cancer patients either change locations for care or are admitted to a hospital near the end-of-life, and therefore, effective communication between all involved providers is imperative. Despite consistently improving electronic medical records, the challenge still persists for all clinical teams to be aware of the communication that each care provider has with the patient and their family.

Support for Caregivers

A key aspect of hospice care is the support provided to caregivers, and although research on the topic is limited, evidence suggests that the most effective support for caregivers results in: 

  • Need for information and education being better met
  • Decreased rates of depression 
  • Improved ability to move forward with their own life after the death of their loved one

 In conclusion, the authors state, “Hospice provides patients with the potential for a better quality of life, improved symptom control, and more time away from inpatient care.” Furthermore, since most of the care for advanced cancer patients becomes the responsibility of caregivers, any additional support provided to them while acting in the caregiver role will likely be of significant advantage.


Currow, D. C., Agar, M. R., & Phillips, J. L. (2020). Role of hospice care at the end of life for people with cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 38(9), 937-943.


Dying is a natural process accompanied by declines in function, including neurocognitive, cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular function.  This process was examined by researchers with regard to cancer patients, and their findings are outlined in this article.

The process of dying varies greatly, and can last up to several weeks in some cases. Actively dying or forthcoming death constitutes the last week of life, and has distinctive clinical signs that are detailed in this article.

The expression of clinical signs differs significantly among patients, but the more of these clinical signs that are shown within an individual, the more likely death is near.

Signs of Active Dying

The determination of a patient transitioning to imminent death is important, so that clinicians can help educate patients and families about the natural dying process.  Furthermore, this helps to inform their necessary decision-making as well as prepare the patient and family for death as much as possible.

Additionally, the care individualized plan is to be updated in order to reflect any changes in the patient’s status, and should include any necessary clinical visits. Please note that a higher level of care may be necessary in specific circumstances of crisis, or symptoms that are not being controlled by initial treatments.

The chart below shows median times that were identified in a study with cancer patients but can be generalized to other causes of death (i.e. heart disease, advanced lung disease, sepsis, and dementia). The following list is not exhaustive but includes some of the more common symptoms.

Days Before Death Clinical Signs
7+ Peripheral edema, delirium, dysphagia of solids, decreased speech, cool/cold extremities
4-6 Abnormal vitals, decreased level of consciousness, dysphagia of liquids
2-3 PPS 20% or less, peripheral cyanosis, decreased response to visual stimuli, drooping of the nasolabial fold, hyperextension of the neck, Cheyne-Stokes breathing, nonreactive pupils, decreased response to verbal stimuli
Less than 2 Death rattle, apnea, respiration with mandibular movement, decreased urine output, pulselessness of radial artery, inability to close eyelids, grunting of vocal cords, fever

Link Between Clinical Signs of Dying and Impending Death

There is a direct relationship between the amount of clinical signs of dying and death:

  • Patients with 2 clinical signs of dying had a 40% chance of dying
  • Patients with 8 clinical signs of dying had more than a 80% chance of dying

The research showed that the more existing clinical signs of death there are, there is a need for an update to the care plan which should include the appropriate interdisciplinary visits.  Ultimately, the process of a natural death results in clinical signs of dying where the more signs that are present increases the likelihood of death.

Involvement of Hospice Interdisciplinary Teams During Clinical Signs of Dying

When clinical signs of dying arise, the hospice interdisciplinary team commences an update to the care plan that will include:

  • Updating the appropriate interdisciplinary team visits
  • Education on the dying process for the patient and family
  • Adjustments to or implementation of medications
  • Ensure that the appropriate medical equipment is in place 

Below, the hospice team roles are described, as they each provide assistance and support in ways that are specific to their discipline and training.

Nurse/nurse practitioner/physician:

  • Discussion regarding the cessation of non-advantageous or troublesome treatments
  • Assure medications and necessary equipment are available to manage symptoms
  • Provide education to the family on utilization of equipment, and explain physiologic changes they may be able to recognize that are associated with the dying process

Social worker/spiritual care coordinator/chaplain:

  • Assist patients and families with exploring and expressing their feelings and navigating their relationships
  • Actively participate in the review of life, including the act of searching for meaningful contributions
  • Facilitate life closure, including forgiveness, addressing regrets, being able to say goodbye, and trying to find acceptance with regard to ongoing losses and death overall

Hospice aides/CNAs are responsible for recognizing the clinical signs of death to then communicate them to the rest of the interdisciplinary team, as well as supporting the patient and family through the dying process in any way they can.


Hui, D., Santos, R., Chisholm, G., Bansal, S., Souza Crovador, C., & Bruera, E. (2015). Bedside clinical signs associated with impending death in patients with advanced cancer: Preliminary findings of a prospective, longitudinal cohort study. American Cancer Society Journals, 121 (6), 960-67.

Hui, D., Santos, R., Chisholm, G., Bansal, S., Buosi Silva, T., Kilgore, K., Souza Crovador, C., Yu, X., Swartz, M. D., Perez-Cruz, P. E., Almeida Leite, R., Salete de Angelis Nascimiento, M., Reddy, S., Seriaco, F., Yennu, S., Paiva, C. E., Dev, R., Hall, S., Fajardo, J., & Bruera, E. (2014). Clinical signs of impending death in cancer patients. The Oncologist, 19(6), 681-87. 10.1634/theoncologist.2013-0457


Help During a Difficult Time
Hospice care is designed to provide a comprehensive selection of services in order to help patients and families through an extremely difficult time.

Precious Hospice provides coordinated care, and support to patients and their families with a range of options that corresponds to their specific needs. Determined by an individualized care plan, hospice care often begins with the interdisciplinary team providing routine home care, but there are a variety of options available.

The goal is to provide patients and their families with options about how their care is administered, while taking into consideration what their goals of care are and the level support they desire, including clinical, social and emotional support from the interdisciplinary team.

While home hospice is a specialized type of care that focuses exclusively on providing comfort and support for people who are facing a life-limiting illness in the patient’s own home, it isn’t about just seeing to the physical needs of the patient. This type of care is comprehensive, and meant to support the patients and their families.

Precious Hospice offers the following services:

  • Assessing and treating symptoms by a highly trained specialist
  • Integrating the family’s goals and principles into the patient’s individualized care plan
  • Mobilizing healthcare resources to ensure continuity of care
  • Guiding patients through the various care settings (e.g. hospital, nursing home, patient’s home, etc.)
  • Medical care from physicians
  • Pain and symptom management from nurses
  • Emotional need management for both the patient and family from Licensed Social Worker
  • Daily living and safety support provided by Certified Nursing Assistants
  • Religious services and spiritual guidance provided by Spiritual Care Coordinator and/or Chaplain


Older patients with advanced dementia living at home in Israel were evaluated in a study published in the Israel Journal of Public Health Research, and researchers found that hospice care was associated with significant improvements in caregiver burden, perceived symptom management, and satisfaction with care among participants’ families. Older patients with advanced dementia were eligible for the research study if they were regarded as stage 7 or higher on the Global Deterioration Scale, were referred to hospice, and already had the assistance of a full-time caregiver.

The researchers hold that this research can assist in not only improving awareness that dementia is a terminal illness, but also that hospice and palliative care can be extremely beneficial to older people with advanced dementia.

The existing home care of the participating patients was augmented with hospice care. For a maximum of six months per patient, a specialty trained physician, nurse, social worker and spiritual care provider met with families and were available to them at all times, and families provided evaluations before and after receiving the hospice care.

Of the study’s 20 participating patients:

  • Average age was 83.5
  • 70% were women
  • Multiple chronic comorbidities were present (65% with hypertension; 40% with ischemic heart failure; 30% post-stroke; 30% with diabetes; 15% with COPD; and 15% with cancer)
  • Patients had been diagnosed with dementia for an average of 5.6 years

Key Outcomes from Assessments by Families:

In comparing family members’ responses (post-program) to baseline assessments:

  • Caregiver burden decreased substantially
  • Symptom management improved
  • Satisfaction with care increased

Key Outcomes that were Identified by Hospice:

  • Although five hospitalizations occurred during the study period, the hospice team identified what they considered to be 33 “prevented” hospitalizations
  • An average of 2.1 medications per patient were determined to be unnecessary, and then discontinued

The researchers explained that “all the families mentioned that the program gave them a sense of being supported and that they would recommend it to others,” and that many stated “they felt more comfortable caring for their loved one at home, that suffering had been decreased, and that they learned more about the trajectory of dementia.”

Also, the hospice team was acknowledged for improving the family and patient well-being and reducing caregiver burden for the families who sought support from the social worker and/or spiritual care provider.

Although it is not surprising, given it is difficult to identify elderly patients with advanced dementia who likely have a six-month prognosis, the researchers identified that “thinking of dementia as a terminal illness appropriate for hospice care was a cultural shift.”

While the researchers designate some limitations to their study, they believe it lays an important foundation for further research, stating that the information regarding the impact and challenges of executing a home hospice dementia model will be significantly valuable in the future on an international level.


Sternberg, S. A., Sabar, R., Katz, G., Segal, R., Fux-Zach, L., Grofman, V., Roth, G., Cohen, N., Radomyslaski, Z., & Bentur, N. (2019). Home hospice for older people with advanced dementia: A pilot project. Israel Journal of Health Policy Research, 8 (42).


Based on a study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine that was the first of its kind, elderly patients from several major United States ethnic minority groups pinpointed hindrances to the type of care they would like to receive at the end of life. Although all participants expressed that high quality end-of-life care was important to them, the majority disclosed that they face barriers to receiving such care. The two most common barriers they reported were physician behaviors and financial constraints.

The researchers stated, “our study is unique, as we used mixed methods to better understand a complex and sensitive research question with multi-ethnic participants.” They further expressed that there is an urgent need for training and support for physicians and allied healthcare providers with regard to facilitating culturally sensitive and effective end-of-life conversations early in the process of dealing with any chronic and serious illness, “in order to facilitate dignity at the end of life for diverse Americans.”

Investigators evaluated the data from a cross-sectional survey of 315 participants (at least 50 years of age) that were recruited from community-based senior centers in five cities in California from 2013 to 2014. The participating population by race and ethnicity was Caucasian/Hispanic (37.1%), Asian-American (50.8%) and African-American (12.1%).

The study was conducted by facilitating interviews in each participant’s preferred language with the assistance of medical interpreters. Personal identifiers were not solicited in order for participants to feel comfortable speaking freely, but demographic data were collected.

Overall Findings:

  • All participants stated that they valued high quality end-of-life care
  • 60.6% reported that barriers exist to receiving such care for members of their ethnic/cultural group
  • Although there were differences based on level of education, there were no significant differences in the classification of barriers with regard to importance across ethnic groups

Major Perceived Barriers to High Quality Care:

  • Lack of financial means or health insurance
  • Physician behavior or practice style, as reported in patients’ perception (idea that physicians lack empathy, give broad answers to questions asked by patients and families, physicians do not have enough time for such discussions, or do not listen to patients and their families
  • The “communication chasm,” between patients and physicians (for instance, language barriers, elderly patients’ incapability to hear well or comprehend medical terminology and the patient’s lack of understanding of their options for end-of-life treatment
  • Family members having differing beliefs about death
  • Health system obstacles, such as the lack of assistance in completing an advance directive
  • Cultural and/or religious barriers and differences

The participant’s education level was the only demographic category shown to contribute to the ranking of barriers and obstacles. Those with no formal education categorized financial obstacles as the most significant barrier. Those with elementary-school-level education and higher, however, identified physician behaviors as the greatest barrier. Both groups ranked the “communication chasm” as the second most significant obstacle.

Although a patient’s health literacy is not usually critical, the researchers identified that “end-of-life situations, however, are different in that they require patients to take an active role, partner with their doctors, and make complex and high risk decisions in the face of an uncertain future.”

There are major issues to the underlying problem with regard to providing high quality end-of-life for ethnic minority populations. (1) As the American population shifts to a larger percentage of minorities, it is necessary to deliver culturally competent end-of-life care, and (2) the nation’s health system is fragmented in a way that it has not provided training or rewards to physicians for effectively communicating the end-of-life healthcare choices to their patients. Below are the recommendations that the researchers provide in order to target these issues.


  • Overall healthcare reform to ensure that diverse Americans can receive high quality end-of-life care regardless of their socioeconomic status
  • Provide training to physicians so that they may communicate with empathy and cultural awareness (typically, the fragmented health system has pushed for treatments and/or procedures as opposed to conducting conversations)
  • Incorporate health education into high school curriculum
  • Encourage physicians to learn the necessary communication skills in order to explain complex medical issues both simply and comprehensively to patients and families
  • Encourage patients to take the leading role when discussing their care choices with their families
  • Develop incentives for physicians to gain adequate skills in primary palliative care and in providing the appropriate referrals for specialists in palliative care
  • Coordinate and utilize interdisciplinary teams of experts to help patients navigate the complex medical, spiritual and existential issues at the end of life

According to the lead researcher, V.J. Periyakoil, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, “there is so much generalization and stereotyping…about how ethnic minorities want everything done, irrespective of how effective these treatments might be at the end of life,…I decided that we needed to go into their communities and ask them what they want.” Dr. Periyakoil also stated that “it’s a profound responsibility choosing whether a person dies at home or in a hospital, what types of treatments to attempt or forgo and when to limit or withdraw burdensome interventions and allow a natural death…in fact, the only right decision is what the patient wants.”


Periyakoil, V. S., Neri, E., & Kraemer, H. (2016). Patient-reported barriers to high-quality, end-of-life care: A multiethnic, multilingual, mixed-methods study. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 19 (4).


Recent Hesitation

Given the aging population in America along with the technological advances in life-sustaining interventions and treatments, several patients will be incapacitated when there is a need for complex end-of-life treatment decisions to be made.  According to experts from The University of Chicago Department of Medicine, the recent emphasis on family-centered care does not change the integral fact that physician recommendations directly influence the decision-making processes of patients’ surrogates.  

According to an article published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, “both the available data and good ethics suggest that physicians should make recommendations to surrogates regarding end-of-life medical decisions for their loved ones as part of the dynamic and interactive process of shared decision-making.”

Although patients have traditionally expected physicians to make recommendations for medical care at the end of life, current concepts of patient independence and surrogate responsibility may have blurred the lines of the issue for some. Recently a trend has arisen where physicians hesitate in making recommendations, out of their concern that they will be considered patronizing.  Additionally, some physicians are not sure if recommendations at the end of life would be openly welcomed by surrogate decision-makers, or if their recommendations are truly an aspect of good shared decision-making.


The researchers in the aforementioned study reviewed the empirical evidence from six quantitative studies regarding surrogate and patient preferences surrounding physician recommendations for end-of-life care.  They then evaluated the ethical case for integrating physician recommendations into the care decisions for terminally ill and incapacitated patients.

The researchers concluded that “all [choices] require that the physician communicate an opinion about a medical decision, which is to make a recommendation,” regardless of whether the surrogates and/or patients expressed their preference for who makes the final decision(s).  They reviewed that only 0 – 1.2% of surrogates preferred to make the decision alone.  The data demonstrated that not only did patients prefer surrogates to know their physician’s opinion treatment at the end of life, but most surrogates preferred to be aware of it as well.

With the family-centered approach to end-of-life care, shared decision-making is included, but does not mean that physicians will abdicate the responsibility for medical decisions to surrogates.  Instead, the article explains that shared decision-making allows for a collaborative exchange in which practitioners are able to help families navigate the predictive uncertainty of complicated medical circumstances and life-sustaining options. Surrogates offer their unique knowledge and understanding of their loved one’s values and desires.


Shared end-of-lidfe decision-making, however, does constitute possible difficulties that the researchers have identified as the following:

  • Prognostication itself can be difficult
  • Explaining clinical uncertainty and complicated clinical situations with conciseness and clarity is a further challenge
  • Surrogates are often at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, and therefore, physicians may hesitate to offer their perspective, in an effort to proceed cautiously

The Ethics

With regard to ethics, having a physician’s recommendations included in end-of-life decision-making is justified.  It represents the ideals of independence such as the surrogate having the autonomy to accept or decline the physician’s recommendation, maintaining medical best practices, and contributing to the relationship between the patient and physician.  Furthermore, the researchers conclude that physician recommendations should continue to be the norm for practice in end-of-life shared decision-making with surrogates, as opposed to a lack of evidence or even morally persuasive arguments. 


Prochaska, M. T. & Sulmasy, D. P. (2015). Recommendations to surrogates at the end of life: A critical narrative review of the empirical literature and a normative analysis. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 50 (5), 693-700.


My friend and co-worker died today.  She was a hospice nurse who believed that HOsPicE means HOPE and proved it by signing herself up when she was diagnosed with an incurable cancer.

precious hospice-white-footer

Precious Hospice partners with patients, families and caregivers to lovingly provide skilled care to the terminally ill. Our multi-disciplinary team is committed to patient pain and symptom management, and the emotional, spiritual and social support for patient and family.

Contact Us

(470) 878-5051
(404) 891-0173
105 Habersham Drive, Suite D
Fayetteville, GA 30214
808 South Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605
5241 Fountain Drive, Suites A-B
Crown Point, IN 46307

2023 ©Precious Hospice. All rights reserved.