• on 13 March 2020
  • By

Johnathan Thomas, MBA, PhD, D.DIV

Jane felt paralyzed. She sat silently at the kitchen table with her head propped against one hand and replayed the events of the day in her mind, trying to make sense of them. She’d picked her aging father up at his apartment earlier in the day thinking that it was going to be a regular day full of doctor’s appointments, but it ended up turning into her biggest nightmare.

It would be weeks until she fully processed the diagnosis, but the reality of her father’s disease started to set in immediately. Right away, her mind started flooding with questions about her father’s care. While the doctor laid out a treatment plan, Jane knew that she had a lot of other details to sort out for her father. He’d always been a healthy guy so she really didn’t know much about what would happen when he began treatment. Would he need palliative care, she wondered? Or would hospice be the more suitable option?

We all want our loved ones to age in a healthy way, but we unfortunately cannot control when illness strikes. What we can do, however, is learn about the resources that are available to your loved ones so that you can arrange the best possible care for them. For many, like Jane, the palliative care vs hospice question is a difficult one if you’ve never dealt with the serious illness of a family member. To help you determine which is right for your aging loved one, let’s look at the similarities and differences between palliative care and hospice.

The Similarities of Palliative Care vs Hospice Care

It stands to reason that many people are unsure of the differences between palliative care and hospice care. After all, they both offer care to those dealing with serious illness or disease and both aim to provide comfort and compassionate care to patients with serious or life-threatening illness. Indeed, there are significant overlaps between the two.

Both palliative care and hospice care center around a holistic approach to caring for a patient. Grounded in the understanding that serious illness doesn’t just affect the body, but has implications for the mind and spirit as well, both types of care provide a variety of services to help patients and their families cope with all aspects of their illness or disease. Counseling, symptom management, medication, and practical day-to-day care are often included as part of both programs.

Similarly, both types of care can be offered as inpatient or outpatient services, meaning that patients will either stay in a hospice or palliative care facility or receive care in the comfort of their own home. It is, however, more common that hospice care is administered at one’s home, with the help of family caregivers and a hospice nurse. In either case, hospice and palliative care programs are covered by medical insurance.

Determining The Right Type of Care For Your Loved One

While it is true that hospice and palliative care do have similarities, there are some key differences that you should be aware of if your aging loved one is struggling with their health. The primary difference lies in the circumstances of the patients each type of program admits.

Palliative care is offered to patients who are also receiving traditional treatment for a disease or illness. Typically, patients will be admitted to palliative care at the time of a serious diagnosis in order to treat and prevent the side effects of the illness and/or treatment. As previously noted, palliative care also addresses emotional and spiritual aspects of disease, and therefore care teams are often made up of not only doctors and nurses, but counselors, social workers, holistic medicine practitioners, and dietitians who work together to help patients feel better and improve their quality of life.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is meant for patients who are no longer receiving treatment for a disease or illness because it has been deemed terminal. Hospice is usually recommended when medical professionals agree that the patient is not likely to live for more than six months and further treatment is unnecessary or unwanted. While the services provided in hospice are like those in palliative care, hospice care is different in that medical staff are no longer administering medication to treat the disease. Instead, the focus is on symptom management and making the patient feel as comfortable and as cared for as possible. Services are designed to help patients make the most out of the precious time they have left. Counseling to help reduce end of life anxiety and pain control are a few examples of services hospice care typically includes.  

A Caring Way To Navigate A Loved One’s Illness

As a family caregiver, it is incredibly difficult to deal with an aging loved one’s illness. The thought of losing those we love is unbearable at best. But for their sake and ours, it is important to seek the type of care that is most appropriate for their needs. Not only will it help them feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually, it will help you and your family better cope with their illness. Most palliative and hospice programs offer family counseling to support loved ones in the ups and downs of a loved one’s illness. Whether it’s a serious illness or the end of life your loved one is faced with, nobody should have to navigate it alone.

Once the initial shock of her father’s diagnosis wore off, Jane learned that palliative care could really help her father feel better while he underwent treatment. Although she couldn’t control the outcome of her father’s illness, she was glad she understood the care options that were available to him. And just knowing that he would be supported and cared for no matter what happened put her mind at ease.