Palliative Care and Hospice Care

palliative care and hospice care

The terms palliative care and hospice care are often used interchangeably to describe end-of-life comfort care. This is a mistake. While there are similarities between the two, they are slightly different. Both describe a style of “whole patient” care, that uses a team of specialists that can extend beyond their physicians and specialists, to provide comfort in the face of a serious diagnosis.

The difference is that palliative care can also end up curing or significantly extending the life of the patient – and can be seen as a potential treatment. While, on the flip side, hospice is only provided when a patient has decided to stop actively treating the disease, preferring to accept an end-of-life diagnosis and receive hospice care to enjoy the highest level of comfort and quality of life as possible until the patient dies.

Palliative care and hospice care don’t provide full-time caregivers

Here is an important thing to note: neither palliative care and hospice care provide full-time care providers. These services include regular check-ins from licensed nurses and specialty care providers, advice, and recommendations, 24-hour support lines, access to certain prescriptions and refills as needed, etc. However, neither is a substitute for personal, part- or full-time caregivers.

Caregiver support is expected to come from partners, family members and/or professional in-home caregivers. Otherwise, the patient may require admission to an assisted living community or some other type of residential care. Contact a local in-home care provider to learn more about the way licensed care providers can be put in place to facilitate in-home palliative or hospice care.

What is palliative care?

First, let’s examine a precise definition of palliative care, courtesy of medlineplus.gov:

The goal of palliative care is to help people with serious illnesses feel better. It prevents or treats symptoms and side effects of disease and treatment. Palliative care also treats emotional, social, practical, and spiritual problems that illnesses can bring up. When the person feels better in these areas, they have an improved quality of life.

Palliative care can be given at the same time as treatments meant to cure or treat the disease. Palliative care may be given when the illness is diagnosed, throughout treatment, during follow-up, and at the end of life.

Like hospice care, palliative care provides comfort care for those diagnosed with a serious illness or progressive disease. If at some point down the line, the patient’s treatment is unsuccessful and/or the condition progresses, palliative care can continue until the end of their life.

The palliative care team will typically consist of the patient’s main health care providers and specialists, along with additional palliative care team members, like clergy, social workers, therapists, masseuses, etc.

What is hospice care?

For a detailed description, read our post titled, What is Hospice Care? to learn more about your options, payment, etc. Medlineplus.gov defines hospice care as:

Hospice care is end-of-life care. A team of health care professionals and volunteers provides it. They give medical, psychological, and spiritual support. The goal of the care is to help people who are dying have peace, comfort, and dignity. The caregivers try to control pain and other symptoms so a person can remain as alert and comfortable as possible. Hospice programs also provide services to support a patient’s family. Usually, a hospice patient is expected to live 6 months or less.

So, while comfort and quality of life are goals of both palliative and hospice care, the former is administered even amidst a patient’s treatment and curative prescriptions, while hospice care is only administered when a person ceases curative treatments and is at the end of their life.

Like palliative care, hospice provides support and resources for the family and caregiving team in addition to the patient, and these resources include spiritual counselors, therapists, and masseuses as well as musical and other therapeutic options.

How do I know which one is best for myself, a senior or a loved one?

Most simply put, if you, a senior or a loved one in your life is facing a serious medical diagnosis, and plan to pursue treatment for that condition, a palliative care team will be set in place. If the patient has a diagnosis that is so serious there is no cure, the treatment side-effects are more debilitating than the condition itself and/or a patient simply decides they’re not interested in treatment options, hospice is the best route to go.

If you are in doubt, your primary care provider or the medical facility’s social worker can assist you in figuring out which quality care plan is right for your particular situation. The good news is that both palliative care and hospice care are covered by most health insurance plans as well as MediCal and MediCare.

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