What Is Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care?

In this article...
  • Palliative care and hospice care are used to help seniors with serious illnesses. Keep reading to learn more about these types of care and what they entail.
Woman and adult daughter embrace and smile while sitting on home front steps

The aging process causes many changes to occur in the human body, from thinning of the skin to a loss of flexibility.

Some of these changes are minor, and they can be treated with lifestyle adjustments, over-the-counter medications or prescription treatments. Other changes are more serious, such as the development of heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

For people with serious illnesses, hospice and palliative care are available to help manage disease symptoms while honoring a senior's wishes regarding end-of-life care.

Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care

Although palliative and hospice care have some similarities, they're not exactly the same. Here are some of the major differences you should know about before making plans for your care.

  • Hospice care is reserved for the end of an individual's life while palliative care can be provided anytime someone has a serious illness.

  • The hospice team is responsible for coordinating care across many departments and disciplines. In contrast, the palliative care team is completely separate from the senior's medical care team.

  • Palliative care can be provided in conjunction with the treatment for a serious illness. Hospice care is only provided when an individual stops receiving treatment for an illness because it is too advanced to cure or control.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is for people who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses. The goal is to manage the symptoms of the illness while also helping reduce the stress of living with a chronic medical condition.

People receiving palliative care typically work with palliative care teams composed of specialists with experience in medicine, social work and other relevant fields. These care providers work with the patient and family members to determine the best way to manage the illness and improve the individual's overall quality of life.

Does Medicare Cover Palliative Care?

Some types of palliative care, such as services provided by medical professionals, may be covered by Medicare Part B. Medicare doesn't have a specific palliative care benefit, so payment is limited to whatever services are covered under Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan.

For people with terminal illnesses, palliative care may also be covered under Medicare Part A, which is the type of Medicare that covers inpatient medical expenses.

Where Is Palliative Care Provided?

Palliative care isn't always provided on an inpatient basis. It may be provided in your home or at an outpatient palliative care clinic. Palliative care is also offered in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities.

Does Accepting Palliative Care Mean I Can't Get Treatment for My Illness?

No. Palliative care is delivered in conjunction with treatment for a wide range of illnesses, including diabetes, emphysema, congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease. If you want to receive palliative care, you don't have to give up your current treatment plan. Should the treatment stop working, your health care provider may be able to recommend a

n alternative to manage your symptoms and help you remain as comfortable as possible.

Types of Palliative Care

Palliative care services help people manage their physical symptoms, improve their coping skills and learn how to manage the stress associated with having a serious illness. For physical problems, a palliative care specialist may recommend medications, physical therapy or occupational therapy.

The care team may also provide referrals to counselors or support groups for help reducing stress and coping with depression, anxiety or hopelessness. These services are designed to improve quality of life for seniors and their families.

Members of the care team may also help with applying for benefits, arranging for transportation and helping seniors and their families understand what treatment options are available.

What Is Hospice Care?

Hospice care is for people with life-limiting illnesses that can't be cured or controlled with medication, surgery or other medical treatments. It's typically reserved for people with life expectancies of less than six months.

When people receive hospice care, the aim is to keep them as comfortable as possible. Instead of treating the disease itself, doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals focus on managing the symptoms. For example, if a person has a type of cancer that causes frequent nausea, part of her hospice care would include anti-nausea medication.

Hospice Services

If you have received palliative care in the past, you may be able to receive it again if you choose to enter hospice care.

For people with cancer and other life-limiting illnesses, palliative care professionals help with symptom management and give seniors and their family members information on what they can expect as the disease runs its course.

Spiritual Support

Not every person in hospice has the same spiritual beliefs, so members of the care team are careful to follow each patient's wishes.

Some people aren't interested in spiritual care while others want their social workers to help them plan religious services or arrange for members of the clergy to visit them.

Care Coordination

Care coordination helps ensure that everyone on the care team is aware of the patient's wishes, including doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors and family members.

Many hospice programs also have family meetings to ensure all family members remain aware of the senior's condition and understand what to expect over the next several weeks or months.

Respite Care

Respite care is offered to family members who need a break from caring for their sick relatives. Caring for someone with a life-limiting illness can take a mental and physical toll, which makes it difficult for relatives to juggle their many responsibilities.

With respite care, a senior with a serious illness is admitted to a hospice facility for several days. The caregiver can use the time to take a vacation, complete chores that they've been putting off or just stay home and rest.