Palliative care refers to any medical care that focuses on treating a patient's symptoms, such as pain, rather than directly addressing the underlying disease. Hospice care is a specific kind of palliative care that aims to make patients more comfortable at the end of their lives. Although hospice care and palliative care are two distinct medical specialties with their own definitions, they are very closely related to each other. Palliative care can technically be used at any stage of life; however when most people use the term palliative care, they are referring to hospice care -- making a terminally ill patient more comfortable when there is nothing more that medicine can do to treat their illness.
Hospice medicine is professional medical care for patients in the last 6 months or less of their lives. The aim of hospice is to provide quality of life rather than quantity and to make the patient and family as comfortable and supported as possible as they prepare for the natural process of death.
Hospice care is provided wherever the patient lives, whether that is at the patient's home, in a nursing home, in a hospital, or in some cases a center run by the hospice. Care is provided by a team of professionals, which usually includes:
Hospice care provides medical care, treatments and medications, services such as physical therapy, equipment such as wheelchairs, community and religious connections, and emotional support.
Death can be a difficult event, and hospice aims to help tend to the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients at this time. After death, hospice often continues to support the family through the logistics of the funeral and any religious services as well as their grief process.