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Palliative Care vs Hospice: Navigating Serious Illness
By Debra Gummelt, DO
Emotions run high as families navigate care or end-of-life choices for loved ones experiencing serious illness. Many times, this is paired with exhaustion and being overwhelmed by the reality of the situation. Fortunately, there are two options to consider to make this transition better for everyone: Palliative Care and hospice.
What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative Care is available to patients at any stage to help manage physical pain. It’s appropriate for anyone who suffers from a serious illness, whether it’s curable, chronic, or life threatening.
Palliative Care programs also assist with other health issues when the situation is serious but not life-threatening at the moment. Most importantly, this option is in addition to treatments – it doesn’t replace them – to help manage symptoms such as pain, nausea, and shortness of breath.
This option occurs on an as-needed basis, so patients use it intermittently to manage symptoms. It can lead to hospice care or not.
Some of the patients I provide Palliative Care for have dementia, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, neurologic conditions (such as stroke, ALS, and MS), and cancer.
Studies show that patients who receive Palliative Care have improved quality of life, such as:
- Less depression and symptom burden
- More control
- Avoiding risks associated with treatment and hospitalization
- Decreased costs with improved utilization of resources
What Is Hospice Care?
This end-of-life choice is for families who have a loved one who will not recover from their terminal illness and typically have less than six months to live. The goal is easing pain and managing medications and symptoms. It honors the wishes and values of the patient and helps preserve their dignity.
People in hospice are often at home, cared by a team of family members and professional care givers. Hospice also is offered in hospitals and nursing homes as well as specialized centers offering hospice care.
One of the priorities of hospice care is helping patients and family members prepare for the end of life. Hospice does not offer life-saving treatments but instead offers comfort for whatever time is remaining.
Commonalities Between the Two
Both Palliative Care and hospice provide opportunities to help families make difficult decisions regarding end of life. This could include creating an end-of-life plan that details the patients’ wishes around medical resuscitation, who makes legal decisions, and funeral arrangements.
Palliative care and hospice also both offer medication to ease pain and improve symptoms. These can be simply over-the-counter options or prescriptions. The goal is to offer comfort care.
These patient-focused care options also offer an improved quality of life for patients rather than extending their life. Families can focus on quality time with their loved one and make new memories together.
Navigating this process with a loved one can feel challenging. Look at the big picture and remember the goal is to receive comfort care and improved quality of life for your family member.
Lean on community resources that can assist with emotional support groups, food pantries, and free legal services. Talk to your physician to help assess the situation and make recommendations for your specific family needs.
Every family’s situation with Palliative Care or hospice is unique regarding time frame and care plan. It’s ok to lean on professionals for guidance during this difficult time.