Though many residents of Mt. Vernon and elsewhere are familiar with the concept of hospice care, not all of them are sure how it fits with other types of assistance, especially palliative care. So his often leads to the question: are palliative care and hospice care the same?
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice is always happy to provide answers, but we will admit that this particular question isn’t just a “yes” or “no” answer.
Generally speaking, hospice care is considered just one example of a type of palliative care, which is a health care approach that emphasizes a focus on a patient’s quality of life rather than a traditional health care focus on “treating/curing something by any means possible.”
Palliative care can begin when someone is diagnosed with a serious health condition, and the prognosis doesn’t have to be terminal either.
For instance, if someone is diagnosed with cancer, their provider can discuss different treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
If someone has early-stage dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, they also will be given more details about the disease, how it can progress, and different care options.
If someone says they would like to explore palliative care options for their condition or conditions, this can activate a medical team of different medical specialists familiar with this type of care and the emphasis on quality of life. Their current provider could be part of this group or hand off your care to another provider more familiar with your condition or care options.
The palliative team may recommend different options, including sending a patient home to recover, rather than make him or her stay for an extended period of time in the hospital.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that any kind of treatment will be abandoned and everyone is giving up, but more than that the patient will likely be more comfortable recovering in their own environment with fewer tests and distractions rather than staying in a noisy, busy hospital.
These more peaceful conditions may even create an environment that can be more conducive to good healing and recovery, such as letting someone get plenty of sleep in their own bed and have a focus on pain management rather than more risky, painful experiments.
Palliative care and hospice care
If the decision is made to move someone into hospice care because of a terminal health condition that could end their life in the next few months, their palliative care plan can continue or perhaps begin if they didn’t have this before.
Here, as well, the focus can be on improving quality of life and managing pain as much as possible. This will make it easier for patients to take care of arranging their final affairs, spend important time with friends or family, and not have to spend their final days somewhere else.
Efforts to help their health can also continue: they can still have access to massage therapy, which can ease aching muscles and help them relax. They can receive physical therapy or occupational therapy, which will help them get around the house better and safer.
These types of skills are useful especially as some of their other abilities may decrease. But if they can learn ways to remain independent, such as getting in and out bed, preparing meals or grooming themselves safely, they’ll be less likely to have to move to a rehabilitation facility or assisted living center.
Palliative care in a hospice environment can also provide access to some types of medications that may not be available for traditional care.
For instance, some stronger narcotics may be able to help with severe pain and improve the ability to sleep. Some of these may be linked to long-term damage or a high potential for addiction, but if someone only has a few weeks or months to live, these side effects don’t need to be much of a concern.
Part of palliative care is looking ahead to future medical needs and making sure the same attention to quality of life continues.
For instance, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may be able to get around well on their own currently, but in a few years, may need in-home care on a part-time or even full-time status. Or they may need to consider relocating temporarily or permanently.
This is a good opportunity to learn more about different options to help patients.
November is National Long Term Care Awareness Month, an opportunity for people to learn about different resources in their community. This includes care facilities, home health care services, and benefit providers.
Some financial advisers or insurance brokers may offer long-term care packages for individuals or family members. Though not everyone likes to think about getting older and declining health, having some of these care details arranged ahead of time can provide everyone peace of mind and avoid stress.
Whether different care options are needed for palliative/hospice reasons or other health changes November is a good time to conduct research.