November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Frankly, this topic isn’t pleasant to think about. In fact, it’s downright painful for most—rife with conflicting and overwhelming emotions. But when reaching this vulnerable time, it’s more important than ever to understand all your options and think as rationally as possible when finding help for your loved one.

Difference between hospice and palliative care

These two terms are often used together, and both involve comforting and easing the pain of the sick individual, but ultimately they have different implications and purposes.

According to WebMD, palliative care, in most cases, doesn’t replace the patient’s usual medications and treatments, but serves as an additional relief to ease the patient’s suffering while they live with their illness.  It’s an “extra layer of support,” as described by Crossroads Hospice. Sometimes palliative care can also assist with easing side effects of meds and treatments.

Palliative care can be prescribed to a patient struggling with a critical, long-term illness, regardless of the illness’s current stage, and how much estimated time the patient is estimated has left. While palliative care was originally designed for terminal illnesses, that’s not always the case anymore, and many patients recover and no longer need the extra assistance.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is more time-sensitive, geared towards those dealing with a terminal illness, and indicates that the patient has an estimated six months (or less) left to live, as certified by a licensed physician.

Hospice care also involves elements of palliative care and the alleviation of pain and maximization of comfort. It can be provided in more than one location, such as in the patient’s own home or a care center.

Could hospice care be the right option for my loved one?

It’s a painful and emotionally-charged question to consider, so make sure to consult with a physician first. In fact, a doctor’s evaluation is usually required for an individual to enter hospice care in the first place.

Additionally, oftentimes hospice patients have rejected the usual treatment methods for their particular condition, and so hospice becomes the next best option. Hospice can be provided for anyone who has a life-limiting illness, regardless of age or diagnosis.

According to Compassus Hospice, there are eight major signs for considering hospice care:

•  Frequent hospitalizations or trips to the ER

•  Frequent or recurring infections

•  Reduced desire to eat, leading to significant weight loss and changes in body composition

•  Rapid decline in health in prior six months, despite aggressive medical treatments

•  Uncontrolled pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting

•  Decreasing alertness, withdrawal, increased sleeping or mental confusion

•  Inability to perform tasks of daily living, such as eating, walking, using the bathroom, personal hygiene or getting dressed

•  Decision to focus on quality of life, instead of aggressive treatments.

If you’re not convinced hospice care is necessary at this point, then consider palliative care. Like hospice care, palliative care focuses on pain relief and creating an overall higher quality of life. Many hospitals and care centers have a counselor or intake professional who is trained to address your needs, listen to your concerns, and help you make the right decision.

There also are hospice and palliative care services out there that can accommodate a patient’s (and his or her family’s) emotional and/or spiritual needs. Additionally, many churches offer caregiver support groups open to the public, with no charge, and regardless of one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof.