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Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care: What's the Difference?


By Jonathan Thompson October 07, 2015 Posted in: Family Health , Article

If you don't know much about palliative care vs. hospice care, you're not alone. The details surrounding both aren't really common knowledge until you're directly affected. To start, know that when you or a family member is faced with a serious medical condition, there are many factors to consider. You want to make the right decision regarding the course of care, because not only will the plan need to include proper treatments for symptom management, but there are also often emotional and spiritual needs. Juggling all these aspects makes for a complex, trying process, and whether it's yourself or a loved one going through it, you'll need all the support you can get.

Fortunately, many hospital networks include facilities for palliative care services and consultation, and some offer hospice service, as well. Let's compare the two to understand the key differences and help you make more informed decisions during these difficult situations.

Defining Palliative Care

Palliative care may begin as soon as a diagnosis is made, along with other treatments. The overall goal here is improving quality of life for the patient involved, usually in the case of advanced, complex, and potentially life-limiting illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, dementia, AIDS/HIV, and ALS.

Along with attempting to manage pain, symptoms, and medication side effects, palliative care also incorporates the psychological and spiritual aspects of struggling against a serious illness. To accomplish this rather complicated task, palliative care programs typically enlist a team of professionals from various disciplines including chaplains, doctors, nurses, dietitians, social workers, psychologists, and massage therapists.

Where Does Hospice Care Come In?

In discussing the merits of palliative care vs. hospice, the major element to consider is the progression and severity of the illness. While palliative care is given at the same time as treatment, hospice care begins when treatment ends. Like palliative care, hospice is focused on providing comfort, but the major difference is that the patient can no longer benefit from treatment and is expected to live for six months or less.

Hospice is all about helping patients retain peace, comfort, and dignity during their last days while limiting pain and other symptoms. Typically, these programs will also include support for the patient's family. Depending on the nature of the patient's condition and other factors, hospice care might be given at home, in a hospital, at a specialized hospice center, or in a skilled-care nursing facility.

Palliative and hospice care offer similar services, but expect very different outcomes. If you're confronted with either of these options, whether as a patient or as a patient's relative or friend, you'll be better prepared to deal with the implications. In the end, know that both are there to ease the pain -- both physical and mental -- of the person being cared for.

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