Understanding Palliative vs. Hospice Care

Most people have heard of “hospice care” and probably have a basic understanding about what the word “hospice” means. Far less people are as familiar with the term “palliative care.” In fact, many think the word “palliative” has the same definition as the word “hospice.”

Yes, hospice care and palliative care are very similar and have many goals in common. But they are not exactly the same.

Both hospice care and palliative care provide specialized attention beyond traditional, curative medical treatment. Both focus on preventing and relieving pain, discomfort, distress, and suffering. Both concentrate on meeting mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Both are aimed at improving overall quality of life. Both help address the needs of family members as well those of the patient.

The main difference between the two forms of care centers on when each is utilized and why each is utilized. Palliative care can be provided throughout an illness and while a patient is also receiving traditional, curative medical treatment. Hospice is provided after traditional, curative medical treatment has been discontinued and life expectancy has become limited.

Although palliative care is not curative itself, it can be very effective in helping patients as they undergo curative medical treatment during the course of an illness or progression of a disease. Studies have indicated that palliative care initiated during the earlier stages of an illness can be quite effective in helping reduce discomfort throughout the course of the illness. It also can help improve a patient’s tolerance to treatments that may be especially grueling and/or cause difficult side effects.

Hospice care can be of tremendous benefit both physically and emotionally in situations when treatment has stopped being effective for a patient battling a life-threatening illness or disease. Hospice can help the individual continue to experience the highest quality life possible until the very end. Research suggests that starting hospice care as early as possible before a patient nears death can provide physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort and relief for people living with a terminal condition and facing death.

If you or a family member are dealing with a serious or potentially life threatening disease or illness, speak with your doctor early on about palliative care and hospice care to find out if either one may be appropriate in your specific circumstances.

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