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The Differences (and Commonalities) Between Hospice and Palliative Care

elderly gentleman in bed, at end-of-life, with caregiver holding his hand.

The Differences (and Commonalities) Between Hospice and Palliative Care

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While most of us have heard the terms palliative care and hospice care, we may not be familiar with what they are, how they are different, and what they have in common until we have a loved one who needs these specific types of care.

Palliative care is patient and family-centered, optimizing quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering. Many palliative care patients still receive treatment for their terminal or life-limiting illness, including aggressive treatments like chemotherapy. Palliative care can begin as soon as a patient is diagnosed with an illness and involves addressing the whole person – physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. This type of care also emphasizes patient independence, access to information, and choices.

Hospice care, on the other hand, focuses on relieving the symptoms and stress related to a terminal illness in the last six months of life. Unlike palliative care, hospice care begins after treatment of the disease ends and typically does not take place in a hospital.

Similarities

Both types of care focus on providing comfort, reducing stress, and treating the patient holistically.

Because both palliative and hospice care patients may be able to live in their homes, they often need assistance with basic tasks such as laundry and light housekeeping, grooming, meal preparation, and maintaining a link to the outside world. Angel Companions caregivers provide those services as well as mobility assistance, medication management, companionship, transportation to appointments, and much more, and enjoys working alongside a hospice team to ensure loved ones remain safe and healthy in the home.

Differences

The main difference between the two is that palliative care can begin at diagnosis and take place at the same time as treatment. Typically, a specialized nurse practitioner will visit the patient at least monthly to provide care alongside the primary care physician and specialists.

In hospice, the patient receives their primary care through a hospice team instead of their physician treatment team. Specialized hospice teams include nurses, clergy, social workers, hospice care aides, doctors, and volunteers who care for not only the patient but their family as well.

Choices in Care

One question family members and patients often have is who makes the call about whether hospice or palliative care is the right next step. The Angel Companions team helps guide their current and potential clients with choices about care services beyond our scope including medical transportation, skilled nursing services, and hospice.

Ultimately, the patient and family work with the nurses and doctors to choose the best path forward. If you or your loved one needs care for a terminal illness, you can request a hospice or palliative care provider of your choice and get a written order from the doctor to ensure care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or insurance.

Whatever path you choose, it’s important you maintain open communication with the care team. Share your goals. Ask questions if you are unsure of what services and care will be provided. And offer your care providers a copy of the advanced directives to make it easier for everyone involved to know and carry out the patient’s wishes.

Angel Companions works with local, respected healthcare providers like Long Leaf Hospice who graciously contributed to this blog post. Together we support families and their medical teams’ care decisions to ensure their loved one is safe and secure in the place they call home. If you would like to discuss how to integrate companion care into your family member’s care plan, contact us today.

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