What are Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

by Watkins Kelly, Communications Specialist, RUSH Alzheimer’s Disease Center

For caregivers, there may come a time when you need to have difficult conversations about end-of-life care for a loved one. Though these decisions are emotional and complex, it helps to first become familiar with available options.

Whether older adults are outlining their end-of-life preferences in advance, or a caregiver or family member is making those decisions, several factors may be considered. Two prevalent options are palliative care and hospice care.

What is Palliative Care?

  • Medical care to address the person’s symptoms alongside the treatments intended to cure their serious illness.
  • May be helpful to any older person having a lot of general discomfort and disability very late in life.
  • Palliative care may begin at the time of diagnosis.

What is Hospice Care?

  • If a patient enters hospice care, that usually means that their condition is no longer responding to medical treatment.
  • Hospice care shifts to focus on the care, comfort, and quality of life of the person.
  • A member of the hospice team visits regularly, and someone is usually available by phone at all times.

Both palliative and hospice care entail teams of various specialists, including nurses, doctors, social workers, and spiritual advisors. Both forms of care may be offered at home, in long-term care facilities, or hospitals.

Caregivers have a lot to consider: personal research, recommendations from medical professionals, and, likely, opinions from family members. Experts suggest practicing “substituted judgment” by putting yourself in the place of the person you are caring for and try to choose as they would, or to consider “best interests” and what you as a representative think is best for them. Caregivers can find available care organizations online or from the medical professionals helping care for their loved one.

Determining preferences for end-of-life care can be an intimidating task. Knowing about popular options, such as palliative and hospice care, may help you feel more comfortable making these tough decisions. Read more about similarities and differences between palliative care and hospice care.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Month


Last Updated on November 9, 2023

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