What’s the difference between palliative care and hospice?

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As you help care for the older loved ones in your life, you probably have heard the terms “palliative care” and “hospice.” While can both deal with end-of-life issues and can be similar in nature, the two are not quite the same. Read on to learn the differences between palliative care and hospice and if either are right for the person for whom you provide care.

Palliative Care

Doctors can provide treatment to seriously ill patients in the hopes of a cure for as long as possible. These patients may also receive medical care for their symptoms — known as “palliative care” — along with curative treatment. Palliative care doesn’t cure an illness, but it does help to treat its symptoms.

In palliative care, you do not have to give up treatment that might cure a serious illness. Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment and can begin at the time of diagnosis.

Palliative care can be provided in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient palliative care clinics and certain other specialized clinics, or at home. MedicareMedicaid, and insurance policies may cover palliative care. Veterans may be eligible for palliative care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Private health insurance might also pay for some services, so check to see if insurance will cover your particular situation. Health insurance providers can answer questions about what they will and will not cover.

A palliative care consultation team is often assigned to the patient. This is a multidisciplinary team that works with the patient, family, and the patient’s other doctors to provide medical, social, emotional, and practical support. The team is made of palliative care specialist doctors and nurses, and typically includes others, such as social workers, nutritionists, and chaplains.

Over time, if the doctor or the palliative care team believes ongoing treatment is no longer helping, there are two possibilities. Palliative care could transition to hospice care if the doctor believes the person is likely to die within 6 months. Or, the palliative care team could continue to help with increasing emphasis on providing comfort care.

Hospice

Increasingly, people are choosing hospice care at the end of life.

At some point, it might not be possible to cure a serious illness, or a patient may choose not to undergo certain treatments. Hospice is designed for these situations. The patient beginning hospice care understands that his or her illness is not responding to medical attempts to cure it nor are these attempts slowing the progress of the disease.

Like palliative care, hospice provides comprehensive comfort care as well as support for the family, but, in hospice, all attempts to cure the person’s illness are stopped. Hospice is provided for a person whose doctor believes has 6 months or less to live.

Hospice is an approach to care, so it is not tied to a specific place. It can be offered in two types of settings—at home or in a facility such as a nursing home, assisted living home, hospital, or even in a separate hospice center.

Hospice care brings together a team of people with special skills — among them nurses, doctors, social workers, spiritual advisors, and trained volunteers. Everyone works together with the person who is dying, the caregiver, and/or the family to provide the medical, emotional, and spiritual support needed.

A member of the hospice team visits regularly, and someone is always available by phone — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hospice may be covered by Medicare and other insurance companies; check to see if your loved one’s insurance will cover his or her particular situation.

Information courtesy of the National Institute on Aging.