Hospice and Palliative Care: What’s the Difference?

No one wants to think about the end of his or her life. But by knowing your options and sharing your wishes with your health care providers and/or family, you can make sure that you receive exactly the type of care you want in your last precious months, whether they’re spent at home, in a retirement community, or in the hospital.


There are two main options for end-of-life care: palliative care and hospice care. Palliative care is specialized treatment for people living with serious illness, such as heart failure, cancer or Parkinson’s disease, that targets the symptoms of the disease with the goal to improve a person’s quality of life. It is provided alongside treatment for the disease itself. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) gives this example to illustrate palliative care:


Adriana developed anemia while she was being treated for breast cancer. A palliative care specialist suggested she get a blood transfusion to manage the anemia and relieve some of the fatigue she was experiencing. Controlling her symptoms helped Adriana to continue her curative chemotherapy treatment. Treating her anemia is part of palliative care.


Hospice care, like palliative care, focuses on improving quality of life for people nearing the end of their life. The difference is that hospice care is not provided alongside curative treatments. Hospice care typically comes into play if a doctor believes a person has an uncurable disease and is likely to die within six months. If a person will die of cancer within half a year regardless of treatment, for example, he or she may choose hospice care to treat symptoms and avoid the negative side effects that come with chemotherapy.


By making it clear early on that you would like to receive hospice care when the end of your life arrives, you can avoid tests and medicines that you don’t want, even if at that time you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself.