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Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care: What’s the Difference?

According to the National Institute on Aging, both palliative and hospice care offer symptom management, relief of suffering and end-of-life care. However, even with these common focuses, in many ways, palliative care and hospice care are different.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care treats symptoms and the side effects of disease. Palliative care may begin when an illness is diagnosed, throughout treatment, during follow-up and/or at the end of life.


In addition to the medical and practical support, bearing similarity to short-term rehabilitation used to treat disease and illness, a palliative care team also aims to address emotional, social and spiritual concerns that result from illness. Palliative care is offered by a wide range of professionals, including those listed below, to support each of these aspects.

  • Doctors
  • Nurses and nurse practitioners
  • Physician assistants
  • Registered dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Physical, occupational, and massage therapists
  • Spiritual advisors

In short, palliative care helps people with serious illnesses feel better and enjoy an improved quality of life through offering ways to boost immune systems, focusing on eating better foods, making time to get outside and encouraging people to stay active in various ways.

Serious illness affects more than just the physical body. It can change all aspects of a person’s life and the lives of their family members. Having a diverse palliative care team is important to ensure that the individual as well as their family and friends are supported in a number of different ways.

Palliative Care is for quality of life

It is important to note that during palliative care, medical care may be administered by the patient’s regular physicians to help cure or treat the disease and doesn’t necessarily require a larger team, although different professionals can support different aspects of an individual’s health.

Post-Surgical Care

There are providers who specialize in palliative care, but any health care provider can offer this service. Palliative care can be administered in a hospital or cancer center, at home or in a skilled nursing center.

Palliative care can address:

  • Physical problems, such as pain, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath or loss of appetite.
  • Emotional, social and coping issues, such as stress, anxiety, hopelessness or depression.
  • Practical problems, such as financial or job-related issues, insurance, and legal concerns.
  • Spiritual matters that involve faith.

Both palliative care and hospice care provide comfort, and help seniors age with dignity.

What is Hospice Care?

While palliative care can begin at diagnosis and during treatment of the disease, and is often a result of seniors’ most common health concerns, hospice care begins after treatment of the disease is stopped, when it is determined that the patient will not survive the illness.

Hospice care includes palliative care, also addressing the patient’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Hospice assists with activities of daily living such as administering medications, bathing and dressing. It does not provide full-time caregiving and requires that a caregiver (family member or hospice visiting nurse) be present during this time.

Hospice is care, not treatment.

No curative medical treatment is given during hospice care. A patient must generally be terminal or within six months of end-of-life to be eligible for most hospice programs.

The goal is to administer compassionate and comforting care during this period.

Hospice care is a philosophy that always includes palliative care and attends to the pain and comfort issues of terminally ill patients prior to their passing.

Patients receive relief from pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms so they can focus on the people and things they care about the most. Hospice doesn’t mean “giving up.” It means the emphasis is on the quality of life instead of trying to cure a disease—which can even promote independent home living.

Hospice is for family members too. It offers counseling and help from volunteers, so family members may attend to practical matters. Bereavement counseling is offered to family members even after an individual’s passing.

Hospice Care can be temporary; it need not be a permanent choice.

If, for example, a patient’s kidneys are failing, and hospice is chosen rather than continuing with dialysis, the patient can change his or her mind, stop hospice care, and resume treatments anytime.

More than 90 percent of hospice care is paid by Medicare’s hospice benefit, and care can be administered anywhere the patient calls home.

Knowing the differences between palliative care vs. hospice care can better determine the type of care someone may require.

caring for a loved one

Both palliative and hospice care offer specialized medicine that take an interdisciplinary approach to support the medical and nursing needs of people with critical illnesses.

They focus on providing compassionate care and relief from the symptoms, pain, and physical and mental stress of a serious illness.

If you have questions about palliative or hospice care, a good place to begin is to talk with your family member’s physician.

SALMON Health and Retirement