By definition, palliative care focuses on decreasing pain and suffering through pain and symptom management along with emotional and spiritual support, regardless of age. Palliative care is closely associated with hospice care, but the distinction is that it is not just for the dying. Palliative care may also be referred to as “end-of-life” care.
Although these three terms may be used interchangeably, there are a couple of differences. Palliative care and hospice/end-of-life care focuses on pain and symptom management, but the difference between them is that with the former the patient’s condition doesn’t have to be terminal and they may still be undergoing aggressive treatment. With hospice or end-of-life care, the patient’s prognosis is terminal with a life expectancy of less than six months and the patient is no longer undergoing curative treatment.
“In both ... the focus is on quality of life of the patient. The goal for both types of care is to address any adjustment to illness or end-of-life issues.” (University of Maryland Medical Center)
Palliative care is available at any time during an illness, particularly if a patient is undergoing life-saving or life-prolonging treatments. Whether or not palliative care is available to a patient is not determined based on whether or not your condition can be cured. The goal of palliative care during this time is to make a patient as comfortable as possible and improve quality of life during treatment.
Looking Closer at Palliative Care
In addition to providing relief from pain and other symptom management, palliative care (adapted from the World Health Organization):
• “affirms life and regards dying as a normal process;
• Intends neither to hasten or postpone death;
• Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care;
• Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death;
• Offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient’s illness and in their own bereavement;
• Uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families ...