Understanding Hospice vs Palliative care: Living well at any stage of life

Is there a difference between hospice care and palliative care? Yes, there’s a big difference, and choosing the right mode of care for you or a loved one is super important. Let’s take a deep dive into the two.
Understanding Hospice vs Palliative care: Living well at any stage of life

Watching someone you love suffer through those final stages of life can be incredibly difficult. In fact, it can sometimes be the hardest part of the dying process for family, friends and carers. It’s common to feel a little helpless and as though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t make the process any easier or more comfortable for them.

And to an extent, that’s true. We, too, wish we could control so much more of the death and grief process. However, something you can do is find them the care they need so their final days, months or years are as comfortable as they can be. Finding a good hospice service or palliative care facility can be crucial in ensuring their end-of-life period is as restful, warm and positive as possible.

Who is hospice care for?

Hospice care is appropriate for people with a life expectancy of around 6 months. It’s a form of care reserved for those who will require it on a short term basis.

A hospice service is best for individuals who prefer to remain at home for their final days or months, and a nurse will typically visit the patient on a regular basis to ensure they are comfortable. With this type of end-of-life support, day-to-day care is left to the family and friends of the dying, and medical treatments are usually stopped.

Who is palliative care for?

Palliative care is best for those who require extra help with their day-to-day, and who prefer not to pass away at home. Usually, palliative care is undertaken at a dedicated facility or aged care home, and staff work to support and care for the patient, 24/7.

The aim of palliative care is to provide a supportive and comforting environment for the dying, giving them a sense of community in their final days. This can remove a sense of isolation for the dying, and can provide the family with support and extra sets of professionally trained hands during a tough time.

Unlike hospice care, individuals living in a palliative care facility may still undergo treatments to prolong their life. It’s entirely up to the individual and their family to decide whether they’d like to continue with treatment, or cease treatment entirely during this time.

Which option is better? Hospice care, or palliative care?

We wish we had a simple answer for you, but deciding on which method of care is best for your loved one is entirely up to you, them, their care team and their needs. Here are some questions you might like to ask yourself and your loved one(s) when deciding whether to opt for hospice or palliative care.

1. Is the individual able to be cared for at home?

(Eg. Do they live with others? Are those they live with willing and able to adequately care for them?)

If yes – Hospice care can be considered. They can be cared for by those they live with, and a hospice nurse can visit regularly to ensure they’re comfortable at home.

If no – Palliative care is your best bet. They can move into a dedicated facility and receive all the support they’ll need during their final stages of life.

2. Do they require 24/7 support from medical professionals and nurses?

If yes – Palliative care is recommended. At a palliative care facility, they’ll receive dedicated 24/7 support from nurses and doctors.

If no – Hospice care can be considered. Most of the day-to-day care will be provided by loved ones, instead of by medical professionals.

3. Do they want to die at home?

It's important to understand whether a person wants to die at home or not.
If yes – Hospice care can be considered, but only if 24/7 care from a nurse or doctor isn’t required.

If no – Palliative care can be considered.

4. Will treatment be continued?

If yes – Palliative care should be considered. They can continue treatment while living in the palliative care facility.

If no – Hospice care can be considered, as treatment must be stopped before booking a hospice service.

5. Will they need short term or long term care?

(For example, up to 6 months of care can be considered ‘short term’, but this definition varies between care providers).

If yes – Hospice care can be considered.

If no – If longer term care is required, palliative care is recommended. Hospice care can only be provided for a set, short term period.

Is hospice or palliative care essential for a dying loved one?

No. While hospice care or palliative care are not essential for dying loved ones, they’re usually recommended. Studies have shown that those provided with additional care (either hospice or palliative) experience a better quality of life in their final days than those who don’t. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “With earlier referral to a hospice program, patients may receive care that results in better management of symptoms, leading to stabilisation of their condition and prolonged survival”. And, naturally, better symptom management and stabilisation reduces anxiety and stress for both the dying and their family.

More so than that extra level of care your loved one will receive during their final moments, they’ll be provided with certainty and stability during a time that might feel scary and daunting. Doing whatever you can to keep your loved ones comfortable (and help you and the rest of your family better cope with the end-of-life period) is important.

Wrap up

Making decisions when a loved one is nearing the end of their life can be difficult. Discuss your options with a trained healthcare provider, and make your choice based on what feels right and appropriate for the patient, their care team and for you.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as medical advice.

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