Improving Patients’ Quality of Life Through Hospice and Palliative Care

elder man in bed reading a book while hospice nurse looks on


November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, which exists to raise awareness of hospice and palliative care and the needs of those living with pain and life-limiting illnesses.

Many people are reluctant to enlist the services of hospice or palliative care, because they see it as “giving up.” In truth, hospice/palliative care is a compassionate response to someone who is terminally ill and/or living in pain.

Hospice care vs. palliative care

Hospice is a type of palliative care. Palliative care is care that focuses on improving a patient’s quality of life by treating pain and managing other symptoms. This is called “hospice care” when the person receiving palliative care has a life expectancy of six months or less. The aim is always the same – to improve a person’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. People receiving hospice care have chosen to discontinue curative treatments and, instead, are focused on creating a time of comfort and dignity. People receiving non-hospice palliative care may still be seeking curative treatments.

Palliative care improves and extends life

There is no denying palliative care’s track record in improving – and even extending – life. In a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers discovered that people living with serious illnesses who receive palliative care have a better quality of life and fewer symptoms. Palliative care may go beyond that by actually extending life. In another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, 63 percent of the patients who started palliative care immediately after a diagnosis of advanced cancer were alive after one year, while only 48 percent of the patients who started palliative care three months after diagnosis were alive after one year. But the good news doesn’t stop there. In a more recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers discovered that palliative care not only improves quality of life, it shortens hospital stays and lowers medical costs. One study found that palliative care saved patients who were eventually discharged an average of $1700.

When is the right time to start palliative care?

As the Oncology study above suggests, the sooner palliative care begins, the better. Early care may also help caregivers. In a study published in The Oncologist, researchers noted that early integration of palliative care into a patient’s oncology care plan improves quality of life, symptom burdens and depression. The study sought to find out the effect palliative care for their loved ones had on caregivers. They discovered family members who were caring for a patient who receive palliative care reported lower depression symptoms, as well as less anxiety compared with caregivers of patients assigned to usual oncology care.

Planning ahead for the end of life

Just as with any life transition, planning ahead will make the transition smoother. Selecting hospice care early on lessens the difficulty and stress of making an important decision at a time of crisis. It can make a critical difference in how a patient comes to terms with dying, and can give families the time they need to prepare themselves for the loss of a loved one. It also means there is time for important discussions about advance directives and other healthcare decisions, while the patient is still able to speak on his or her behalf and make their wishes known.

Family Home Health can help

Family Home Health has extensive experience in helping patients and their families with end-of-life care and services. We take a compassionate approach to caring for those with a life-limiting illness. The team’s focus is caring for the whole person, assisting with pain and symptom management and providing emotional and spiritual support. The goal is to alleviate suffering and provide comfort care to the client and their loved ones during a time when it’s needed the most.