Palliative vs end of life care — what’s the difference?

Palliative care. End of life care. What’s the difference? If you’re a bit confused by these terms, you’re not alone.

Simply put, palliative care refers to specialized care given to people living with a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure. End of life care is part of the palliative care approach, and is used in the final days of someone’s life, based on their wishes, and goals for care.

Let’s look a little deeper.

Palliative Care

You could think of palliative care as an umbrella of care, covering someone from diagnosis through end of life. Palliative care is given to any person living with an incurable illness. In long term care homes, this includes people living with various forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy Body dementia. The palliative care approach aims to provide comfort and improve quality of life, and includes all stages from diagnosis through end of life.

Receiving palliative care isn’t dependent on time. Many people benefit from palliative care for months or years before death occurs. Ideally, a palliative approach to care begins early in someone’s illness: either when someone is diagnosed with an incurable illness, or as an existing one progresses.

This approach is intended to help manage medical, psychological, practical, social, spiritual, and physical issues, for the person, and for their family and friends. During the process, the person might be asked to identify their goals and wishes regarding care. This can help prepare everyone for eventual life closure.

Research has found that those who receive an early palliative approach to care have an improved quality of life, reduced anxiety, improved pain and symptom management, and can live longer than first expected.

For more information, watch Better Early Than Late on YouTube.

End of Life Care

The end of life is a natural part of the human experience. Even when it is anticipated, when it arrives sometimes we feel unprepared, and it is common to experience a wide range of emotions and uncertainty. End of life care is offered as the final stage of palliative care. It is often misunderstood to represent palliative care in general, but is focussed on the transition from life to death.

This is the final phase of life, when the person has hours, days, or weeks to live. In this phase, you notice the most change in someone. They might need more help with tasks, or sleep much of the time. As someone moves from general palliative to end of life care, their care plan will be adjusted based on their needs, and will reflect their wishes and goals for care.

End of life care includes helping family or friends through the process, by explaining the journey and what to expect, or offering spiritual support.

At Broadmead Care, our goal is to support family and loved ones through the final stage of life with compassion and dignity. If you have questions about palliative or end of life care, please speak with your loved one’s Care Team. For more information about what to expect at end of life, click here to read or download our End of Life brochure.

Palliative Care

  • Specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure.
  • Includes people with various forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body disease.
  • Person may receive medical care for their symptoms, along with treatment intended to cure their illness.
  • Includes all phases of care.
  • Can last anywhere from a few weeks to years.

End of Life Care

  • Is the final phase of palliative care.
  • Prepares the person and their family for end of life.
  • Person’s patterns change: they might need more sleep, or help with tasks.
  • Usually lasts weeks, days, or hours.
  • Care provided is based on the person’s wishes, and goals of care.