What Are Hospice Care and Palliative Care? What is the Difference?

Although it may not be the first thing you want to plan for, many older adults and their families benefit from planning regarding palliative or hospice care. We never know what life may bring, so planning for things like end-of-life care or treatment for serious illness is essential. For example, what types of treatments are you comfortable with if you’re seriously injured? What type of care do you prefer? What is the plan when it comes to funeral arrangements? Times like these are stressful, so getting the planning out of the way early allows older adults and their families to focus on what is important.

When pondering this type of care for yourself or a loved one, there are a few things to consider. The main factors often include a preferred care setting, how long an individual has to live, and how willing they are to pursue life-extending treatments.

Below, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about both hospice and palliative care, so you can make an informed decision.

Palliative Care

First, let’s examine palliative care. This type of medical care is designed specifically for people who are living with a serious illness. These can include things like heart failure or cancer. This option is meant to alleviate symptoms and provide treatments to cure whatever is ailing a patient. The main goal is to enhance a person’s quality of life and provide a higher level of care than they would receive from traditional doctor’s appointments or other standard methods. It is also designed to help alleviate stress on the patient’s family.

Benefits of Palliative Care

Anyone who is living with a serious illness can benefit from palliative care. These include Parkinson’s disease, dementia, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart failure. This type of care can be beneficial during all stages of an illness and is best started soon after diagnosis. It’s best if the time between diagnosis and enrollment in care is as close together as possible so treatments and other benefits can be offered as soon as possible.

In addition to the main goal of increasing a person’s quality of life by helping with symptoms, it can also be informative. Information will be provided to each patient and the patient’s family. They can fully understand their choices when it comes to medical treatment and seek the best options for their needs and future.

When it comes to the results of palliative care, there are three main outcomes. First, a patient’s condition may improve, with care no longer needed. Patients could also reach a comfortable level of living, both not recovering fully from the disease but remaining at the current level of care. Unfortunately, some doctors may find that this type of ongoing treatment isn’t helping. When this occurs, the patient is often transitioned to hospice care.

How It Works

Palliative care can be provided in specialized clinics, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, or even at home. Both Medicaid and Medicare, along with a few other insurance policies, often cover this type of treatment.

Both patients and families can expect to get practical, emotional, and social support no matter the location of the care. When it comes to the professionals that work directly with the patient, they will vary slightly depending on where care is being provided and the level required. A specialist will be consulted at the beginning of the process. After, you can expect to work with nurses, doctors, social workers, chaplains, and nutritionists.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is specifically designed for individuals who are suffering from a serious illness and are approaching the end of their life and planning a funeral. The focus here is to provide as much comfort and quality of life as possible rather than an emphasis on treating the illness.

People are increasingly choosing this path when it becomes clear that a patient is suffering from a serious illness that doesn’t have a cure, or if they choose not to undergo certain treatments. When this decision is made, both the patient and the family understand that medical attempts have not been successful and that the preferred path is to provide comfort. This will closely resemble palliative care, but without the attempt to treat the illness.

Benefits of Hospice Care

Traditionally, patients who are expected to have six months or less to live are provided with this care. Anyone who has a serious illness with this prognosis will qualify. Older patients may choose this option rather than enduring intense treatments for diseases like cancer and even begin planning a funeral. A patient may determine that because of their advanced age and the stage of the disease, going through grueling treatments will only worsen their quality of life and likely not cure their illness.

Starting hospice either early or late will also affect the patient. Some individuals and their families are willing to take advantage of its benefits early on after diagnosis, which often allows for more quality time to be spent together. On the other hand, it is also possible that patients wait too long to begin hospice and are too close to death to receive many benefits.

How It Works

Rather than being a specific place or facility, hospice instead refers to an approach to care. There are two options to choose from hospice at home, or in a facility like a hospital, nursing home, or specialty facility.

Doctors, nurses, spiritual advisors, trained volunteers, and social workers all work together with both the patients and their families. Everyone knows that this is a very difficult time in anyone’s life, so the focus is put on providing spiritual, emotional, and medical support to everyone involved. Guidance is even provided when it comes to preparing for the funeral.

If the choice is made to receive hospice at home, frequent visits are made by the team to ensure the best quality of care. Someone is also always available by phone 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in case of an emergency. There is also the opportunity for caregivers to alleviate the burdens of the family and friends who are caring for the patient. This can be referred to as respite and can range from a short break of a few hours to a few days. The goal is to provide these important services, but also allow the caregivers time to recharge.


Everyone knows that making these decisions is not easy. No one wants to weigh these two options or think about end-of-life care or a funeral, but it’s beneficial to all parties when decisions are made ahead of time. This allows for more clarity surrounding the choice. For example, an individual may be in denial about a serious diagnosis and refuse hospice, which would be beneficial to both them and their families. By planning, these decisions are already made and allow everyone involved to focus on their loved one, which is the most important thing.

If there is any comfort in these situations, it’s that you can be sure that no matter which type of facility, treatment, or care is chosen, there are entire teams of professionals who are dedicated to caring for your loved ones and providing the necessary support that everyone needs during these difficult times.

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