Hospice Palliative Care: What Does it Really Mean?

The temperature is dropping, the snow is falling, and you’re dreading that loathsome winter disease – the common cold. You remember; the sniffing, coughing and heavy head that beg for decongestants, cough syrup, and boxes of tissues.

You may not be able to cure the cold, but you’re willing to do anything to alleviate the symptoms; in other words, it’s time for palliative care.

Hearing the words “palliative care” often brings to mind end-of-life care.

However, it really just means managing the symptoms of the disease without curing the disease; “it focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.” (www.getpalliativecare.org)

Essentially, the goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life while minimizing suffering for those living and coping with chronic or life-threatening diseases. For example, someone living with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) may use palliative measures, such as oxygen, to help them through their day.

On the other hand, hospice care is a type of palliative care for people at the end of their lives; the focus remains the same – improving the quality of the person’s remaining days while minimizing their suffering. It’s also often referred to as “hospice palliative care.”

 Hospice care may be delivered in the community, at a hospice unit in a hospital, or at a stand-alone hospice structure, such as Alberta’s first rural residential hospice in Okotoks, Foothills Country Hospice.

So, how do patients and families experience an enhanced quality of life with minimized suffering when receiving hospice and palliative care? One way is through collaboration between the patient, the family, and the hospice and palliative care team.

Hospice and palliative care teams include specialized palliative care nurses, doctors, social workers, community volunteers, psychologists, chaplains, expressive art therapists, dieticians, and other medical or community resources. The team’s role is to develop a plan which addresses physical, emotional, social, and even relationship issues which may challenge their client.

The plans are individual and unique, but may include services such as volunteer visits in the home, and/or participation in community groups like the Expressive Art Group at Edmonton’s Pilgrims Hospice, or AHPCA’s Living Every Season program.

Regardless of the intervention, the primary goal of hospice and palliative care is to ensure effective control of pain, symptoms and suffering so that a dying person is able to do the things that they consider important to enhance the quality of their life in their last days.

Now you know.  Hospice and palliative care is about

1.      Living with as much quality as possible until death.

2.      Living the last days without suffering.

3.      Care for the patient and their loved ones.


At the Alberta Hospice Palliative Care Association, we support community hospice palliative care groups in their care of Albertans needing end of life service.

To find hospice and palliative care services in Alberta, simply go to AHPCA’s Resource Directory.

Written by Jennifer Elliott, former AHPCA Executive Director

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