Hospice Glossary of Terms

Here is a list of common hospice care words and definitions

Advance Directive

A general term that describes two kinds of legal documents—living wills and medical powers of attorney. These documents allow a person to give instructions about future medical care should he or she be unable to participate in medical decisions due to serious illness or incapacity. Each state regulates the use of advance directives differently.


Grieving a death. Hospice of the West offers grief support groups, one-on-one counseling and an annual memorial service to remember those patients who have passed.


In relation to end-of-life decision-making, a patient has medical decision-making capacity if he or she has the ability to understand the medical problem and the risks and benefits of the available treatment options. The patient’s ability to understand other unrelated concepts is not relevant. The term is frequently used interchangeably with competency but is not the same. Competency is a legal status imposed by the court.


Family members, friends or paid staff who provide care to a person who is ill.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order

A DNR order is a physician’s written order instructing healthcare providers not to attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in case of cardiac or respiratory arrest. A person with a valid DNR order will not be given CPR under these circumstances. Although the DNR order is written at the request of a person or his or her family, it must be signed by a physician to be valid. A non-hospital DNR order is written for individuals who are at home and do not want to receive CPR.

Healthcare Agent

The person named in an advance directive or as permitted under state law to make healthcare decisions on behalf of a person who is no longer able to make medical decisions.


Considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care of people facing a life-limiting illness or injury, hospice and palliative care involve a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the person’s needs and wishes. Support is provided to the person’s loved ones as well.

Living Will

A type of advance directive in which an individual documents his or her wishes about medical treatment should he or she be at the end of life and unable to communicate. It may also be called a directive to physicians, healthcare declaration, or medical directive.

Medical Power of Attorney

A document that allows an individual to appoint someone else to make decisions about his or her medical care if he or she is unable to communicate. This type of advance directive may also be called a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney for healthcare or appointment of a healthcare agent. The person appointed may be called a healthcare agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact or proxy.

Palliative Care:

A comprehensive approach to treating serious illness that focuses on the physical, psychological and spiritual, and existential needs of the patient. Its goal is to achieve the best quality of life available to the patient by relieving suffering and controlling pain and symptoms.

Power of Attorney

A legal document allowing one person to act in a legal matter on another’s behalf regarding to financial or real estate transactions.

Respite Care

A benefit provided by Medicare that allows the patient to go to an inpatient hospice home for up to five days so the family caregivers can take a break.

Surrogate Decision-Making

Surrogate decision-making laws allow an individual or group of individuals (usually family members) to make decisions about medical treatments for a patient who has lost decision-making capacity and did not prepare an advance directive. A majority of states have passed statutes that permit surrogate decision-making for people without advance directives.