Palliative care is comprehensive treatment of the discomfort, symptoms, and stress of serious illness, whatever the diagnosis. It works with a patient’s main treatment and can be given along with all other medical care. The main goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life. It focuses not just on a patient’s physical and medical needs, but also his or her emotional, social, and spiritual concerns. It also provides support to the patient’s family.
Palliative care is not just for people who might die soon. It is a resource for anyone with a long-term chronic disease such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease. Palliative care can be provided in any setting, including hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient palliative care clinics, other specialized clinics, or at home. All Veterans Health Administration hospitals now have a palliative care program.
The organized services available through palliative care can also be helpful to any older person having a lot of general discomfort and disability late in life. Palliative care can also help patients, family members, and health care providers talk through treatment and care decisions.
Hospice care provides comprehensive comfort care to the dying person as well as support to his or her family. Attempts to cure the person’s illness are stopped. Candidates for hospice care are people with a serious illness who a health care provider thinks has less than 6 months to live. The goal of hospice is to relieve symptoms and make a dying person as comfortable as possible, maintaining that person’s quality of life and dignity.
Hospice care does not provide 24-hour, around-the-clock nursing care, so many patients are cared for by family members, hired caregivers, or nursing home staff in between visits from hospice care providers. Hospice care can be provided in the home, at an assisted living facility or nursing home, or in a hospital.
Some people think a health care provider’s suggestion to consider hospice means death is very near, but that is not always the case. Sometimes people do not start hospice care soon enough to take full advantage of the help it offers.