When people think of palliative care they often think hospice. But they’re actually two different things. Palliative care is a new medical specialty that doesn’t focus only on the dying.
Here’s a look at what palliative care is, who’s it for, when it’s appropriate, and more.
What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care refers to a form of medical care for people with serious illnesses. Provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and others, palliative care focuses on relief from the symptoms (and stress) of serious illness. Improving the quality of life for both the patient and his or her family is the overall goal of palliative care.
How Is It Different From Hospice Care?
Patients that are eligible for hospice care must be suffering from a terminal illness, or be within six months of death. Hospice care generally relies upon a family caregiver, as well as a visiting nurse. Round-the-clock care is provided in a nursing home, a hospice facility, or occasionally in a hospital.
Palliative care, on the other hand, can be received by patients at any time, regardless of the stage or their illness or whether it’s terminal or not. While palliative care can be received and administered in the home, it’s most common to receive it in a hospital, nursing home or extended care facility.
Improving Quality of Life
Treating the stress and symptoms of people who are suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, COPD, and congestive heart failure is the focus of a palliative care team. Symptoms vary and may include depression, pain, nausea, loss of appetite, sleeping difficulties, fatigue, and so on.
Your palliative team will help give you control over your own care by helping you define your goals and understand your treatment options. They’re committed to helping you improve the quality of your life, as well as finding the strength to carry on with daily living. A palliative care team may also include a chaplain, psychologist or psychiatrist, dietitian, occupational therapist and others, depending on the patient’s needs.
When is Palliative Care Appropriate?
Again, palliative care doesn’t signal that a patient has given up all hope of recovery. In fact, some patients recover and move out of palliative care, while others – such as those with chronic diseases like COPD – may move in and out of palliative care as the need arises. Palliative care can transfer into hospice care when a cure proves elusive and death draws near.
By The Numbers
There are more than 1,400 hospital palliative care programs in the United States. The majority of large U.S. hospitals (more than 300 beds) now have a palliative care program, while more than half of smaller hospitals also provide palliative care.