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Differentiating hospice and palliative care

Last Modified: June 21, 2024

Family Medicine, Diseases & Disorders

Man smiling at woman while sitting on sofa.

Many people use the words hospice and palliative care interchangeably when discussing end-of-life care, although they differ in many ways. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for making thoughtful and informed decisions about the care and support needed for yourself or a loved one. Determining the right service can feel disheartening and add stress to an already challenging time. To ease this burden, we examine the nuances between palliative and hospice care to aid you in making the best choice for your situation.

Palliative care

Palliative care, or comfort care, is a form of support for people diagnosed with a serious illness. Unlike curative treatment, which aims to cure the disease, palliative services provide an extra layer of care that focuses on enhancing one's quality of life—not just in one's body but also in one's mind and spirit. However, some providers use palliative care in combination with curative treatment, tailoring the patient's care to their unique needs and goals.

What are the goals of palliative care?

These services can offer relief to some individuals by managing symptoms and pain and treating side effects. For others, it may help patients and their loved ones better understand the illness, openly discuss their feelings and convey treatment preferences. Additionally, palliative care can facilitate improved communication among doctors, nurses, family and friends.

Some therapies serve dual purposes as both curative and palliative. For instance, oncologists commonly use radiation as a curative treatment for cancer, but it can also be employed to help manage cancer-related pain. When used for pain alleviation rather than cancer eradication, it is referred to as palliative radiation.

Learn about the impact of palliative oncology in this video.

If curative treatment is no longer effective, a palliative care provider can help decide whether to continue that approach. When the time is right, the palliative care provider may also discuss options for transitioning to hospice care.

Hospice care

Hospice care is a form of palliative care that provides specialized medical services, emotional support and spiritual resources for people who are in the late stages of an incurable illness, such as cancer or Alzheimer's disease. These services are designed to support family members as they navigate the pragmatic and emotional challenges of caring for a loved one nearing the end of life.

A hospice care team comprises health professionals, volunteers, spiritual advisors, social workers, pharmacists and home health aides. Services typically include:

  • Medical care with a focus on pain and symptom control.
  • 24/7 access to a hospice team member
  • Medical supplies and equipment, as needed.
  • Counseling and social support are available for the individual in hospice care and their loved ones.
  • Guidance in navigating the complex yet normal concerns of life completion and closure.
  • A break (respite care) for caregivers, family and others who regularly care for the person.
  • Volunteer support, such as meal preparation or running errands.

What are the goals of hospice care?

Hospice care prioritizes the patient's contentment, focusing on medical care to provide relief rather than prolonging life. The dedicated hospice care team strives to keep the patient as alert and pain-free as possible. A patient may opt for more holistic remedies, such as massage therapy, to alleviate pain. Additionally, this service allows patients to maintain their sense of control and dignity. Most hospice participants choose to spend their final days in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by loved ones, rather than in a clinical setting.

Learn about the compassionate support of hospice care through this family's experience here.

Final thoughts

Both palliative and hospice care services offer valuable support and cater to the different stages and needs of individuals facing severe illness. Although having these conversations may be difficult, Parkview Hospice can provide information and services to make advance care planning and discussing these options easier. For more information, contact Parkview Hospice at 260-373-9800 or visit











Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.



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