The World Health Organization estimates that each year an estimated 56 million people need hospice or palliative care, and the numbers continue to increase. Many, however, may not understand when to call for these services or what each provides. Both hospice and palliative care programs combine the highest level of quality medical care with the emotional and spiritual support that families need most when facing a serious illness or an end-of-life situation, but there are a couple of differences.
Palliative care programs can begin the moment of diagnosis and can help patients with curative or life-prolonging treatments. Palliative care provides pain management, symptom control, psychosocial support, and spiritual care to patients and families facing a terminal or life-long illness. “Palliative care is really a parallel service, a transitional type of care. This specialty focuses on supporting people who suffer from chronic illness with symptoms that might be difficult to control. The goal is not end-of-life care; it’s symptom management as a person experiences a chronic illness throughout life,” board-certified hospice and palliative care physician Dr. Teresa Catron explained.
The earlier you get palliative care involved, the better the patient tends to do long-term. Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, AIDS, and diabetes can benefit from palliative care. The goal is to prevent excess hospital stays, keep the patient at home where they’re more comfortable and teach the family how to manage your illness in that setting.
Hospice, however, is meant to enhance the quality of life between a terminal diagnosis and death. In other words, instead of focusing on managing a condition or disease, hospice focuses on making patients as comfortable as possible, as well as preparing them for their last days. Hospice care can include medical management of pain and symptoms, medication, medical supplies and equipment, physical, occupational and speech therapies, home aid services, dietary counseling, and spiritual or grief counseling. Medicare and Medicaid typically cover the cost of hospice services.
There also is a huge advantage to involving hospice earlier in a chronic or life-limiting condition. “The perfect time to start hospice is when you are told you have a life-limiting illness, even if it’s two years before you may pass. Involving hospice early on means a death can happen with comfort and dignity and not be a traumatic experience for you or your family. Hospice services not only include medical care through our providers, but also social work support that provides guidance with preparations for death, the funeral and help with financial matters, so many resources are available. Our chaplains also provide much-needed spiritual support,” Catron said.
The myth that hospice only is called in the last couple of days or is there to hasten death is inaccurate. “We’re trying to ensure that what remains for you at the end of your life is as good and fulfilling to you as you want it to be. We prefer to come in earlier because we can do so much more for families to assist them as they prepare for end of life and what comes after, and it takes time to be able to successfully administer to all those needs,” Catron added.
For more information about the full range of chronic illness and end-of-life services Blount Memorial Hospice and Palliative Care offers, call 865-977-5702.