Many of us have been led to think of palliative care as being the same as hospice care, and it's important for seriously ill people and their families to know the difference. While both services offer tremendous care and compassionate for those who need it and both have a lot of similarities, there are distinctions worth knowing.
Palliative care is about the care of someone who is seriously ill, whether it's with cancer, MS, AIDS, brain damage, or recovery from a very serious accident or other incident.
Palliative care offers pain management, emotional support and help when it comes to medications, therapies (physical, emotional, occupational) as well as treatments like chemotherapy, redaction or further surgeries.
The point of palliative care is to offer support to those who have a chance to recover from whatever disease, accident or condition they are suffering from.
Hospice patients are generally terminal with a limited amount of time to live. Many palliative patients can and do survive and go on to live long and healthy lives, although not all will achieve this.
A palliative care team will assist with treatment/recovery techniques like using breathing apparatuses, medication administration, or activities of daily living (ADL's) that may include personal hygiene and bathing care as well as holistic approaches like massage therapies and acupuncture.
They will also work closely with family to support them as well as the patient and to ensure that quality of life is improving for all.
The website www.getpalliativecare.org has some great answers to commonly asked questions. For example, they inform us that most insurances and Medicare offer coverage. Primary care and specialist doctors work with the palliative team so there is no need to have to explain to one group what the other is doing.
Many hospitals have their own special team that includes pharmacists, all kinds of therapists, cancer treatment operators, doctors, nurses and surgeons as well as a liaison who works to support the family as well as the patient.
Hospice care provides the same kind of emotional support for both patient and family but is designed to make the end of life as comfortable and pain-free as possible. But people who enter hospice care, unlike palliative care, are no longer getting potentially life- saving treatments and surgeries.
They are terminally ill and are preparing to die with as much dignity, peace and comfort as possible. Pain medications may be administered but generally no other medications that could prolong life are given.
Many have a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, meaning if they stop breathing or taking water, they are kept comfortable but not revived. It's important to have a DNR on file, if that's what the patient requests.
Families are extremely important during hospice care. Hospice may be done at home or at a hospice center where a person lives our their remaining weeks or months. Staff are very well trained and usually have a lot of experience in how to deal with grieving families and frightened patients.
In fact, if a person enters a hospice facility, they will often note how surprisingly peaceful and comfortable it is. It contains nice bedrooms as opposed to stark hospital rooms. Lots of family may be around, and an atmosphere of comfort often abounds.
In hospice, and depending on the beliefs of the patient, spiritual needs are well taken care of and final decisions are made about funeral services, sometimes with input from the patient herself.
EmpowHER has a lot of information on palliative and hospice care. If the time for hospice care does come around, EmpowHER writer Darlene Oakley has offered a 28-point checklist on what to look for when it comes to a good facility.
Some of her points include:
1. How does the hospice staff, working with the patient and loved ones, honor the patient’s wishes?
2. Are family caregivers given the information and training they need to care for the patient at home?
3. What services does the hospice offer to help the patient and loved ones deal with grief and loss?
4. Is respite care (relief for the caregiver), including inpatient, available?
5. Are loved ones told what to expect in the dying process and what happens after the patient’s death?
6. What bereavement services are available after the patient dies?
She also offered advice on financial issues, family communication, the exact care covered, specialty services and whether the hospice center is regulated and inspected.
A print-out of Ms. Oakley's article Choosing a Hospice Program Checklist might be a good idea when looking into this kind of care.
Because hospice and palliative care offer physical, emotional and spiritual support, it's a good idea for both patient and family to make use of it. Death and serious illnesses are extremely difficult for patients and their families. These support systems can and usually do make a tremendous difference.
Getpalliativecare.org. Frequently Asked Questions. Web. Retrieved December 5th, 2013.
EmpowHER.com. Wellness. Choosing a Hospice Program Checklist. Web. Retrieved December 5th, 2013.
Reviewed December 9, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith