While we’ve all heard of hospice care, palliative care may be a new term to many. What is it and how is it different from hospice care? Although they both serve patients who are suffering from serious illnesses, time is usually the determining factor in choosing which is better. Hospice care is generally provided when a doctor has ascertained that a person may have six months or less before succumbing to a terminal illness. Palliative care helps patients at any point during a serious illness that is curable, chronic or life-threatening, but not necessarily terminal.
Get Palliative Care defines it as:
“Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.”
Palliative Doctors.org sums it up as:
“Palliative care is whole-person care that relieves symptoms of a disease or disorder, whether or not it can be cured. Hospice is a specific type of palliative care for people who likely have 6 months or less to live. In other words, hospice care is always palliative, but not all palliative care is hospice care.”
Most patients receiving hospice care have been deemed to be incurable and therefore is prescribed to help them live the remainder of their lives in comfort and pain-free. Those receiving palliative care do not have to forego active treatments which have been ordered by a health care provider to cure an illness or disease. Rather, it is additional support to help them with their daily activities including taking medications, bathing and dressing, eating, and symptom relief that occurs as a result of treatments and can begin at the time diagnosis. It may be carried out at home, in a medical facility or a long-term care center such as an Assisted Living Facility.
This type of assistive care is often suggested for those managing cancer, heart or lung disease, HIV/AIDS, dementia, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and others. Because of the broad range of services offered under the palliative structure, it may be carried out by doctors, nurses and other practitioners, massage or physical therapists, psychologists, chaplains, dietitians, and social workers, depending on what is needed for the individual patient. However, the patient continues to remain under the care of their primary doctor throughout.
With hospice, the care is signed over to the providers of the hospice services as the primary doctor no longer feels that there are any life-saving measures which can be offered and is deemed terminal. Palliative care is sometimes also prescribed at the same time as hospice care to help with the daily activities, whereas hospice will make sure the patient is comfortable and pain-free.
What are some of the services provided under palliative care? There are four primary areas, the first being the physical difficulties which are assisted by medicine, physical therapies, nutrition and others. There may be the emotional or social challenges for both the patient and caregiver and is supported by psychologists, support groups, counselors and other specialists who can assist with these issues.
Dealing with a severe illness may also lead to a patient wanting guidance in spiritual matters or a renewal of faith which the palliative care team may assist with through chaplains and other religious leaders. An essential facet of palliative care is the aid of day-to-day practical issues such as explaining forms, getting transportation, bathing and dressing, facilitating meals and eating, and much more to help a patient through the difficult period during treatment.
Most importantly, palliative care is usually always covered by insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid. If you think that palliative care may be an option for either yourself or family member, talk to your health care provider who will discuss it further with you and prescribe it if deemed of value in the patient’s course of treatment.