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What are the differences between hospice and palliative care?

There is overlap between hospice care and palliative care, but their key differences are important to understand when making a decision as a caregiver regarding your family’s care journey. Learn more about the difference and why one versus the other may be the better fit for your loved one.

What is hospice care?

Hospice care is end-of-life medical and emotional care for patients faced with terminal illnesses along with help and support for their caregivers.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is aimed at symptom relief for people living with serious illness. All palliative care providers focus on relieving the burden of symptoms when the body’s health is out of balance.

What is the main difference between hospice care and palliative care?

Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment. The focus of palliative care is on relieving symptoms, stress and pain with a goal to enhance recovery. Hospice’s focus is on relieving symptoms, stress and pain at the end of life.

Where do hospice care and palliative care take place?

Both forms of care can take place anywhere the patient calls home.

How do I know if a loved one is right for palliative care?

The most obvious sign is if a physician makes the suggestion. Caregivers can also make the call if care becomes increasingly time consuming for them. Seniors and people with disabilities on traditional Medicare B with complex chronic illnesses such as advanced heart and lung disease, dementia or cancer who may not qualify for Medicare-sponsored home health care or hospice and have significant obstacles to receiving office-based health care may benefit.

How do I know if a loved one is right for hospice care?

As with palliative care, a caregiver should take physician’s suggestions into consideration, or if their loved one’s pain is out of control or there are clear signs of disease progression that point toward death, they can make the call themselves. Most patients have a feeling that they are going to die; they will often feel uncomfortable or be unable to sleep or eat. These are signs hospice care may be necessary.

When does a patient transition from palliative care to hospice care?

When the management of serious chronic illnesses reaches the point at which the treatments are minimally effective in controlling symptoms, transition to hospice care becomes the best option. Patients who enter hospice are expected to live only six months or less, though many live much longer because of the extra care and attention they receive on hospice.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis' (VNA) hospice care or palliative care programs (their palliative care program is referred to as Advanced Illness Management, or AIM), visit their homepage and select the program you’re interested in:

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