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Understanding Hospice vs. Palliative Care

Published: October 16, 2021

World Hospice and Palliative Care Day was observed on October 9 and National Hospice and Palliative Care Month is set for November, so we thought it an opportune time to cover these two important types of care.

Hospice and palliative care are both similar; each provides compassionate comfort care and pain relief for people with a serious illness. The main distinction between the two is this:     

Hospice is end of life care for a terminally ill person, of any age, who is expected to live no longer than six months. Palliative care is for a person, of any age, who has a serious illness that may or may not be terminal.

What is Hospice and Palliative Care?

Why is it important to know the details of each? Because one day you or a loved one may have a serious and/or terminal illness and might benefit from one or both of these special types of care. By knowing what’s available, you’ll have the opportunity to live the best life possible under the circumstances, if ever the need should arise.

Hospice Care

Hospice is for anyone at the end stage of a terminal illness, when treatment is no longer effective, or the side effects of the treatment outweigh the benefits. There is no age requirement for admission into hospice care and patients range from infants to the elderly. An individual can be admitted into hospice when they have six months or less to live and have been referred by at least one medical professional.

This type of care is much like palliative care in that it also provides compassionate comfort care and pain relief. A large part of hospice care is palliative care. Staff from both specialties work together to address the needs of the patient.

Palliative Care

Palliative care, like hospice care, is for those suffering from a serious illness. Cancer, congestive heart failure, liver and kidney failure, neurological diseases like ALS and Parkinson’s, and dementia are all examples of serious illnesses.

When a person has a serious illness, a team of healthcare professionals work to cure it, or at the very least, to keep it at bay. Palliative care is an extra layer of care and support on top of this. It can be offered at any point in a patient’s illness—from initial diagnosis, to the end stage, or in between. Palliative care staff are separate from the patient’s other doctors and made up of a team of specially trained doctors, nurses, and other specialists.

Someone living with cancer, for example, may not only suffer from the disease itself, but also from the side effects of treatment. Eating issues, shortness of breath, nausea, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, pain, discomfort, and fatigue are all examples of side effects palliative care addresses.

Relief from pain and discomfort is one part of palliative care, but the scope of support is much broader. Living with a chronic illness not only causes physical discomfort, but it also takes a toll emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Palliative care looks at a patient’s overall wellness—the physical, emotional, and spiritual—pinpointing and minimizing any issues that may negatively affect one’s quality of life, such as the anxiety and depression that often accompany common worries such as feeling like a burden to family and caregivers, as well as loss of independence.

Where Care Takes Place

Palliative care teams usually work in a hospital, with care administered to a patient in their own home or in a hospital setting. Hospice care is most often given at home or a home-like setting, such as a care center, assisted living, or veterans home.

Covering Costs

Hospice care is fully covered by either Medicare, Medicaid, VA—or a combination of. For palliative care, private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare Part B, or the VA may cover portions, but individuals may also have to pay some costs on their own.

Support for Family

Both hospice and palliative care support the family, friends, and caregivers of those living with a serious or terminal illness. They provide emotional and spiritual help, as well as advice. This can come in the form of stress management, instruction on how to best care for an ailing loved one, arranging chaplain visits, answering questions and concerns, and coordinating community resources. Hospice also offers grief support services for one year after the passing of a loved one. These examples are just to give you an idea, as hospice and palliative care offer much more in the way of support.

More Helpful Information on Hospice and Palliative Care

We encourage you to learn more about these two important types of care and the local resources available in our community and beyond, all which are covered in our free downloadable Hospice Guide. This guide's focus is mostly on hospice care, but there are also some resources on palliative care too.

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