Difference Between Palliative And Hospice Care

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When a loved one becomes ill, especially if it’s sudden and unexpected, the number of decisions and choices you have to make can feel really overwhelming and like you aren’t even talking about a human being anymore. It doesn’t have to be like that, though.

Difference Between Palliative And Hospice Care

Conversations around end-of-life care can be difficult to start and even more difficult to get through without getting emotional. It’s important, though, to make a plan so that you can walk the path of end-of-life care so that you can spend as much time with your loved one as possible, and not going through paperwork or dealing with financial matters or even insurance companies.

One part of end-of-life care palliative and hospice care. Often times these two terms will be used interchangeably but they aren’t actually the same thing and there are a few differences between these two types of care.

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the final care plans of anyone: we don’t know exactly what the future will bring or what kinds of care and medical attention they will actually need. What we do know, thanks to a number of studies, is that people who receive both palliative and hospice care have a much better quality of life than those who do not.

In fact, if a patient receives an early referral to a hospice program they may receive care faster which leads to better management of their symptoms and medical conditions, which can actually lead to stabilization of their condition and therefore prolonged life. In some cases, this kind of care can actually relieve depression and anxiety, while increasing a patient’s comfort.

Contrary to popular belief, these types of care do not shorten life. In fact, they can often extend life as they ensure the patient gets adequate care.

Before Making A Decision

Everyone says that when they look back on certain decisions in their life they may have made a different choice had they know then what they know now. Making the right choice for you, or a loved one, means having as much information as possible so you know that you’re doing the very best you can.

Nurse taking care of elderly

Here are a few things to consider before making a decision about palliative and/or hospice care

  • Don’t wait too long before making a firm decision about either one of them
  • Be realistic: pretending this situation isn’t happening will not stop it from really happening. Even though these are hard choices to make, it’s important to face them and make informed decisions by facing the reality of the situation
  • Both hospice and palliative care look at the care for the whole person, not just their condition or disease, so they can be assured the very best care will be provided.


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What Is the Difference Between Hospice And Palliative Care, Then?

As mentioned, these two terms are often used as one in the same but they do not actually mean the exact same thing and there are some differences that are important to note.

Hospice Care

Hospice is a type of palliative care that is designed specifically for the very last stages of life. Patients are usually referred to a hospice program when their medical team believes they may be in the last 6 months, or so, of their life.

Palliative Care

This type of care can be administered at any stage of a disease, and a patient doesn’t have to be close to the last stages of life.

While these types of care do have some differences, so they don’t actually mean the same thing, there is a lot they have in common.

The Goal

Both of these types of care are there to alleviate the pain and suffering of the patient, especially for advanced illnesses where the patient may be experiencing extreme mental, physical and emotional suffering every day.

Both types of care use interdisciplinary teams to make sure the patient as a whole is treated, and they aren’t just seen as a medical condition. This team will treat the patient in their care as a whole person and make recommendations based on what is best for the overall wellbeing of their patient.

Quality Of Life

The interdisciplinary teams will work with the patient, and the patient’s family, to provide the very best quality of life. This will include giving them as many good days as they can because they know that living with an advanced illness can really bring a lot of uncertainty.

What Does Hospice Care Include?

As we mentioned, hospice is different from palliative so how do you know if it’s the right decision for you to make? Good question!

Hospice care

In general, hospice care aims to attend mostly to a patient’s emotional and spiritual needs while they are facing the end of their life. On top of that, the team will do everything they can to prioritize the patient’s comfort, and make sure they are not in a lot of pain.


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How Does Someone Qualify For Hospice?

There are a few requirements for a medical team to start considering that a patient needs to look at hospice care. The first one is that the patient is living with a terminal illness.

Next, you will need to talk to the patient’s doctor about the proper documentation to admitting them into hospice (usually this states that, in the doctor’s opinion, the patient is coming up on the end of their life). Some hospice care facilities require additional information, but for that you will have to talk to them about what they need if you want your loved one to be admitted there.

On top of all of this, you may need to contact your loved one’s insurance company to determine what the coverage is, and if they need to consider specific facilities.

Things To Keep In Mind When Looking At Hospice Care

    • You can change your mind at any time – if this doesn’t feel right for you or your loved one, it’s not an absolute commitment.
    • Forgo other treatments or cures – when someone is admitted to hospice care it usually means there are not other medical treatments available to them. If you choose to admit your loved one to hospice, be prepared to forgo the option of other treatments.
    • A loved one could be in hospice for longer than 6 months, and some people’s health even improves in hospice and they can leave while others will not improve at all.


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So, What Happens In Palliative Care Then?

As mentioned, palliative care can happen at any stage of an illness and it doesn’t necessarily mean someone is in the late stages of their illness. This kind of care, simply put, looks to optimize the quality of life for patients by relieving their suffering.

For those who are looking at hospice and palliative care, and wondering which one is right for them here is what (mostly) needs to happen for a patient to be referred to palliative care

    • Patient has been diagnosed with a chronic illness
    • Their quality of life is severely impacted by this illness
    • Their focus is on comfort, rather than on a cure for the illness they have
    • The patient requires ongoing pain management or care/help with daily activities
    • Their caregiver requires some support or help in caring for the patient.

It’s important to remember that this type of care, along with hospice, doesn’t cure the disease but its aim is to help you learn how to live comfortably with the illness.

elderly patient being diagnosed


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Final Thoughts

Overall, hospice aims to provide care and support at the end of a patient’s life, and to make sure they are comfortable with their emotional and spiritual needs being met.

Palliative care, on the other hand, provides for living well with a chronic illness at any age or any stage.

Both kinds of care aim to help the patient enjoy their life, and find happiness in the things that matter the most to the patient. Living with a terminal or chronic illness if so often filled with heartbreak and uncertainty, so an interdisciplinary team can give a patient the feeling of really just enjoying their life then the patient will feel less like a patient and more like a person again.

Making the right decisions, either for yourself or for a loved one, can be really difficult. Many of us will question if we’re making the right choice, how do you know it’s the right choice and what if you realize – too late – that is just wasn’t the right thing to do? There are many organizations you can talk through your choices with, and who can help you understand the reality you’re facing with this situation.

No matter what decision you make for you or your loved on, making sure you face the reality of the situation and you consider all the options out there will ensure you make the best possible decision for the future. If you have questions, talk to your loved one’s medical team about exactly how their condition is going as that might direct you in one way or another. Whatever you do, don’t wait too long to make a decision as it could mean your loved one is living in pain or suffering with the proper care.