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Palliative Care & Hospice Care: What’s the Difference?

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

The mere mention of the terms palliative care and hospice care can conjure up images of death and dying for many people. The prevailing thought is that someone must be near end of life if these services are being introduced by the medical team. Or another common belief is that they’re giving up on me or my loved one and nothing more can be done.

In the context of person-centered care, hospice and palliative care can provide a tremendous amount of value at different points in a person’s healthcare journey. The terms are often used interchangeably which is not correct. So, what exactly are these services and how do they differ from one another?

First, what are the similarities?

Before we talk about how palliative care and hospice are different, let’s discuss the similarities. Both are focused on providing relief and comfort to a patient who is living with a serious disease or illness including cancer, heart disease, lung disease, Parkinson’s, dementia, HIV/AIDS and others. Both palliative care and hospice care can be provided in a variety of settings including a hospital, nursing home, or the person’s own home. In the case of hospice, it may also be provided in a separate hospice center. Both types of care also include support for the family. In either case, a multidisciplinary team including doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists and chaplains will work with the family and patient to provide medical, emotional and spiritual care. Ultimately, the goal is to improve quality of life for the person experiencing the illness and their family.

What is palliative care?

Palliative Care is a specialized type of care intended to relieve symptoms and stress and improve quality of life for a person living with a serious illness.  It can be introduced at the time of diagnosis, but it may be offered at any point in a person’s illness. It often begins when treatments are chosen by the patient and medical team to either treat or cure the disease, or solely to treat symptoms if a cure is not possible. Palliative care however, is not dependent on prognosis and the illness being treated may or may not be terminal. It can also be used for a short-term illness and may include painkillers or anti-nausea medication.

Palliative care may address many aspects of a person’s illness including symptoms or side effects such as pain, loss of appetite or trouble sleeping; emotional effects and stress of a disease; spiritual issues and practical problems related to finances, transportation and resources.

What is hospice care?

Hospice is a specific type of palliative care. It begins after treatment is stopped and it is evident the person is not going to live or survive the illness. Typically, the life expectancy of a person receiving hospice care is less than six months. Hospice care is not about giving up but rather providing the most comfort, dignity and quality of life possible in the time remaining.

If you or a loved one are living with a serious illness, ask your health care team about palliative care to relieve symptoms and either cure or treat your disease.  If treatments are no longer working and the prognosis is grim, seeking hospice care is a personal decision. Either way, ask questions, seek out help and support, and make decisions that are best for you.



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