While unpleasant to think about, it is a single universal truth that all our lives will one day come to an end. In honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month this November, we’ve compiled facts about the available options before you’re faced with the conflicting and overwhelming emotions of finding help for a loved one during this difficult time.

What is the difference between palliative and hospice care?

These two terms are often used together, both of which involve comforting and easing of pain, but ultimately they each have different implications and purposes. Consider this: all hospice care is palliative care, but all palliative care is not hospice.

  • Palliative Care: This type of care provides additional relief to ease the patient’s suffering while they live with their illness. Palliative care doesn’t replace a patient’s usual medications and treatments, but can often assist with easing the side effects of these meds and treatments. Crossroads Hospice describes it as an “extra layer of support” at any stage of the illness.

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: Hospice care is designed for patients dealing with a terminal illness who has been informed they have an estimated six months or less left to live, as certified by a licensed physician. This type of care does also involve elements of palliative care, specifically the alleviation of pain and maximization of comfort and it can be provided in more than one location, such as in the patient’s own home or at a care center.

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

It’s important to consult with a physician before formulating an answer to such a painful and emotionally-charged question. In fact, a doctor’s evaluation is typically required for an individual to enter hospice care. Patients considering hospice oftentimes reject the usual treatment methods for their particular condition, therefore, hospice becomes the next best option 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.

If you’re not convinced hospice care is necessary at this point, then you may 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.

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