What Is Hospice Care? Here’s Former President Jimmy Carter’s Situation


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has done so much since he left the White House in 1981 that you almost assumed and hoped that he’d be around forever. He’s already lived longer after his Presidency, 42 years, than any other former Commander-in Chief. But Saturday’s announcement about the 98-year-old Carter gave everyone a cold dose of harsh reality. The Carter Center, which Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter founded in 1981, provided an update on the 39th President’s health. And unfortunately, it’s not good news. The Carter Center relayed that, “former U.S. President Jimmy Carter today decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention” in the following tweet:

Hospice care implies that Carter’s health prognosis is rather grim. Typically, hospice care means that doctors along with the patient and the patient’s family have deemed further treatment to be futile and that the patient has less than six months to live. In fact, in many situations, the remaining timeline can be much shorter than six months.

Hospice care is similar to palliative care in that the focus turns more towards keeping the patient comfortable and the patient’s quality-of-life as high as possible. There are two key differences, though. In palliative care, the remining life expectancy could very well be longer than six months, in some cases much longer. Secondly, in palliative care, treatment with the intention of curing major medical conditions can continue. By contrast, hospice care means that such treatment will be discontinued. With hospice care, caregivers may still give treatments like blood pressure or pain relief medications but not treatments aimed at curing the conditions.

A hospice may sound like an actual specific location, but it is more of a general approach to the patient’s care. While hospice care can take place in an actual hospice facility, it can occur in a range other settings too. It may be in a hospital, an assisted living facility, or a nursing home. Many people choose to receive hospice care at home so that they can spend more quality time with family and friends in a familiar setting. When hospice care occurs at one’s home, a care team of nurses, doctors, social workers, spiritual advisors, and others visit the home regularly to offer comfort and support. In home hospice care, usually, it’s family and friends that provide to day-today care with the hospice team coaching them on how to do so. If family and friends do get overwhelmed, the hospice can temporarily provide what’s called respite care to give the regular caregivers a few hour, a few day, or even a few week break to rest. The Carter Center’s announcement indicated that Carter has chosen to receive such hospice care at home.

It’s not clear which specific medical problems have led to this hospice care designation for Carter. Carter has been setting and extending Presidential records with his longevity. Since 2019, he’s been the longest-living U.S. President, surpassing former President George H.W. Bush, who died that year at 94 years, 171 days. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have been married for 76 years, making it the longest marriage in Presidential history. By the way, he was three-years-old and she was a day old when they met. It’s not clear what they talked about when they first met. However, it wasn’t until he was 20 years of age and she was 17 before they had their first date in 1945. That date apparently went quite well. Looks like Carter qualifies in the ability-to-maintain-a-long-relationship category.

Eventually, such longevity will bring medical issues. Over the past eight years, Carter has faced his share of health challenges. In 2015, he received treatment for melanoma that had spread to his brain and liver. Four years later, 2019 turned out to be a tough year medically for Carter. That year, he suffered three falls, one in May that left him with broken hip that required surgery to fix, another in October that caused a forehead injury, and a third that same month that resulted in a fracture in his pelvis. The next month in November, Carter had to undergo surgery to relieve pressure on his brain creating by bleeding from his falls. In December 2019, Carter returned to the hospital for several days to be treated for a urinary tract infection. It’s not completely clear what’s happened medically over the past few years, but once you’ve reached your upper 90’s even seemingly minor conditions can rapidly turn into bigger problems.

Many on social media understood the implications of this hospice care designation, that former President Carter’s remaining time will be limited. This prompted a number of well-deserved tributes to Carter. For example, Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist for Salesforce, menioned that “In 2019, President Jimmy Carter, the oldest living former president in US history, at age 95, built Habitat for Humanity homes in Nashville. President Carter represents the best of humanity,” with the following tweet:

As you can see, former NBA player Rex Chapman replied to that tweet with a heart and broken heart emojis.

Mike Sington, a former Senior Executive at NBCUniversal posted a video of Carter flying a commercial airline, something that you see less and less of these days from people who have achieved a certain status in society:

What you see in this video is kind of in line with Carter has seemed to live his post-White House life. Joel Achenbach, a writer for the Washington Post, tweeted out an August 17, 2018, Washington Post article by Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan that described how Carter had shunned riches after his Presidency. The article described how Carter “decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to ‘capitalize financially on being in the White House,’” something that Achenbach quote-tweeted:

Indeed, after his Presidency, you haven’t seen Carter do things like try to sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) showing him wearing a superhero costume and having lasers come out of his eyes. Instead, he did a whole lot of work for the Carter Center, which has done a wide range of projects to advance democracy and human rights, resolve conflicts, relieve human suffering, and address health problems around the world. He’s helped build houses for the disadvantaged through Habitat for Humanity International. He’s served as a peacekeeper between different countries and, as a result, was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. And he’s been a prolific author as well. The books that he wrote weren’t the “look at me, look at me” or “buy my stuff” kind of books that some people write either. Rather a number of these books have addressed important issues that our society has been facing such as his 2006 book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis.

Speaking of moral crisis, Carter’s life of service after his Presidency has been a stark contrast to what you see a lot of political leaders and personalities do these days. These days a number of people for seem to be relying on anti-science rhetoric or words that try to divide people of different demographics for political gain. Carter has seemed to realize that moral and societal leadership shouldn’t stop once you are no longer in the White House or the U.S. Capitol or wherever you were when you formally held political office. It is reasonable for society to judge Presidents by not only what they accomplished while in office but what they did afterwards. And if there’s one word that can summarize Carter’s life, it is Presidential, truly Presidential.

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