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Palliative Care and End of Life Care Differences

Many people assume “palliative care” and “end of life care” are two different terms for the same specialized treatment. While both options may share characteristics, they have different goals and benefits. 

Learn below what each treatment is, how they are different, and when it may be time to consider one over the other.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care specializes in treating the symptoms of a serious illness regardless of the stage or expected outcome. It focuses on providing physical comfort and maximizing the quality of life for individuals, even if their condition is life-limiting.

A specialized team of nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals typically work together and communicate closely with the primary healthcare team. Palliative care can be provided in many different settings, including the home, assisted living facility, nursing home, or hospital.

Palliative care can be offered with other aggressive treatments. For example, a patient with cancer may receive chemotherapy and, at the same time, benefit from palliative care to manage and treat symptoms.

Palliative care may also be recommended for people recovering from surgery, after a transplant, or for any other condition causing serious discomfort.

If your loved one’s doctor recommends palliative care, it does not automatically mean their disease or condition is terminal.

What is End of Life Care?

End of life care involves medical care and emotional support as an individual approaches the last days of living. It begins when attempts to cure or delay the progress of a disease have been exhausted, and a doctor diagnoses the condition as terminal. This type of care may last for hours, weeks, or even months. It is typically handled by a team that includes doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, social workers, financial and legal advisors, and even religious clergy.

An individual’s needs and desires, including the following, are considered and supported:

  • Physical comfort
    As part of the end of life process, palliative care is often used to ease physical discomfort.

  • Mental and emotional support
    Mental health professionals are available to help a patient and family work through emotional distress. The care team will ensure a calming and soothing environment for the patient.

  • Practical requirements
    Managing essential home care responsibilities, such as light housekeeping and running errands, is often part of a care team’s duties to lighten the burden on the patient and family. Some end of life care may also include legal or financial advisors to help put personal affairs in order.

  • Spiritual necessities
    Faith-based support may be an integral part for spiritual or religious individuals.

End of life care can be provided in many settings, including at the home, assisted living facility, nursing home, hospital, or hospice facility.

Hospice care is another treatment option for people who have advanced, life-limiting diseases or conditions. Hospice care is different than palliative care because it is provided specifically for people expected to live six months or less.

Respecting Your Loved One’s End of Life Wishes

End of life care can come in different forms. Some people may ask for a more intense treatment, while others may request only palliative care to ease symptoms.

Make sure to have in-depth conversations with your loved one before their condition worsens and prepare an end of life plan so that everyone understands their final wishes. Composing a living will or other type of “advance directive” (a document that states what your loved one would like in terms of medical care if they are no longer able to provide consent) is also useful.

Overall, it’s important to respect your loved one’s end of life wishes and ensure they receive the appropriate treatment for their needs and condition.

Visiting Angels offers palliative care and end of life care programs that provide symptom management and emotional support for patients and their loved ones. Our compassionate caregivers focus on the patient’s needs foremost, but they also provide families with support and resources needed to navigate the process. Our caregivers can provide a much-needed helping hand to family members so they can spend more time with their loved one rather than running errands.

If you're interested in more information about how in-home care can help your senior loved ones, contact your nearest Visiting Angels office today or call 800-365-4189.
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