Whether due to disease or old age, death is an inevitable part of life. But even through death or disease, people should always be treated with respect and dignity. After all, this is what being human is about.

Palliative and hospice care aim to achieve just that. Aside from providing curative treatment, the health-care team offers palliative or hospice care to provide comfort to patients with life-threatening diseases. At the end of the day, this holistic approach in health care provides a better quality of life.

Principles of Holistic Care

A person is not just a physical body. Humans are composed of body, mind, and spirit. And when one of these parts is not functioning properly, all the other parts will be affected. This imbalance can affect overall health.

This is what doctors and the entire medical team consider when treating a patient. The goal is to achieve optimal health and wellness—and this can be done by gaining proper balance in life.

Holistic medicine also taps on a person’s emotions. It is based on the principle that support and love are powerful healers. And when these come innately, a person has the capacity to heal one’s own body.

Holistic practitioners use various treatments to assist patients in looking out for their own well-being and eventually achieving optimal health. For people with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, these health-care providers initiate palliative or hospice care.

How do these two facets of holistic medicine really differ?

Understanding Palliative Care

A chronic illness can take its toll on a person, affecting not just the body but the mind as well. A serious health condition can have various symptoms that cause pain and discomfort to a person. The pain can become unbearable to the point that it affects one’s way of life.

This is what palliative care aims to improve. Palliative care is given to patients with serious life-threatening illnesses. This approach to health care serves one purpose—to help patients and their families improve their quality of life.

To deliver palliative care, health-care providers prevent and relieve a patient’s suffering through early disease identification, assessment, and pain management.

The World Health Organization enumerates the functions of palliative care as follows:

  • Provides relief from pain and other discomforts
  • Treats dying as a normal process of life
  • Treats the psychological and spiritual aspects of the patient
  • Provides unwavering support in helping patients live an active life until death
  • Provides unwavering support to the family as they cope with the illness
  • Enhances the patient’s quality of life and changes the course of illness for the better

Doctors may suggest palliative care at any stage of illness, yet it is best provided once a patient’s diagnosis is made. It benefits those with life-limiting diseases such as heart failure, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease, and helps them live as normally as possible.

With palliative care, patients do not have to stop curative treatment. Palliative care may be provided along with ongoing treatment.

But when a person no longer responds to any treatment, palliative care may transition to hospice care.

Hospice Care: An End-of-Life Comfort

Not all serious illnesses can respond well to treatment. There may even be cases where a patient chooses to opt-out of it. In such conditions, health-care providers may offer hospice care.

When a person begins receiving hospice care, he or she understands that all medical interventions to cure the disease don’t work. In fact, doctors will recommend hospice care to patients who have less than six months to live.

Hospice care is a health-care approach that isn’t tied to a single setting. The hospice team may provide it at the patient’s home or in a facility, whether it be in a hospital or a nursing home.

While treatment for critical illness is stopped during hospice care, not all treatment may be discontinued. For instance, a patient with cancer whose chemotherapy is not responding may stop the said treatment. Yet this person’s treatment for high blood pressure may still continue. The goal is to provide comfort and symptom relief as much as possible.

The Role of Family and Friends

The hospice team—which may comprise of doctors, nurses, spiritual advisers, and social workers—will attend to the patient and the family’s needs. A member of the team may regularly visit to provide help and support whenever possible.

But while the team offers a solid support system, the family and friends will be responsible for taking care of the patient dying at home. The role of the hospice team is to teach family members how to do so. After all, patients will want to spend their final days with their loved ones as much as they can.

Palliative and hospice care are important approaches to health care. While both have similar goals, they have their own differences. Know how each of them leads to a better quality of life through the helpful infographic below:

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