Palliative Care Myths

FACT: Hospice and palliative care is not just for the end of life. It is a holistic approach that includes caregiver support, spiritual care, bereavement and much more.

The truth is…Hospice and palliative care is about having the best quality of life for however long life remains. Palliative care patients have serious illnesses that eventually bring about the end-of-life but up until then it is important to be free from pain, symptoms, and suffering. Recent studies show that many patients who receive palliative care may live longer than those receiving standard care based on a more curative model.

FACT: All those who are diagnosed with a chronic life-limiting illness can benefit from hospice and palliative care

The truth is…Many people still think that hospice and palliative care are just for cancer patients. In the early days of hospice most patients had cancer but as hospice and palliative care have grown, more patients with non-cancer life threatening conditions are being cared for. These conditions include heart, lung, liver, kidney, brain, and motor neuron diseases as well as very frail elders. International research shows that about 70% of all people who die would benefit from access to palliative care services.

FACT: Palliative care is whole person care that provides psychosocial and spiritual care along with pain management.

The truth is… The founder of the modern hospice movement, Dame Cicely Saunders, came up with the concept of “total pain” to describe how patients with life limiting illnesses experience suffering in many dimensions. These include physical, social, psychological, and spiritual or existential suffering. Pain relievers like morphine are essential to good palliative care to relieve pain and other symptoms and can be safely used, but other measures are also needed to address pain including counseling and social support.

FACT: Palliative care services are offered in many places, including hospitals, hospices and in your own home.

The truth is… Hospices and palliative care programs provide care wherever the person and family reside. Usually that is the place you call ‘home,’ whether it’s a private home, an assisted living facility or nursing home, or even a shelter. In fact the majority of palliative care is home-based care. Palliative care can also be provided for short periods in the hospital or in special hospice units or freestanding inpatient facilities.

FACT: Hospice and palliative care is for people of all ages.

The truth is… People don’t like to think that children die, however a big part of palliative care is care for children. People of all ages can develop a life limiting illness and palliative care programs need to be prepared to care for patients of any age. In some countries there are special hospices and palliative care services devoted to the care of children. You can learn more about international efforts around children’s palliative care at:

FACT: Though every person has the right to hospice and palliative care, there are many around the world who do not have access to hospice and palliative care. In fact only about 10% of the need for palliative care is currently being met worldwide.

The truth is… Access to palliative care is a human right. No healthcare system in a country is complete without including palliative care as an available service. However palliative care is mostly limited to countries in Western Europe, North America, and Australia. Efforts are underway to expand palliative care to low and middle income countries so that every country can have palliative care. A recent study identified 43% of countries with no palliative care delivery.


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