When an individual faces a diagnosis of a terminal disease, it can be overwhelming for both the patient and their family and significant others. There’s the initial shock at first, and some might find themselves entering into the various stages of grief, such as denial and anger. Put simply, it’s the type of diagnosis that can upend the mental health and stability of patients and their loved ones for many years. 

Anyone in this situation will start to hear a lot about hospice and palliative care and will need to know the differences between the two. This guide explains what both care types are like, the types of care provided, how much they cost and who should consider each type of care.

As a general overview, both types of care provide symptom and pain management, along with resources for addressing the social, spiritual, and emotional needs of the diagnosed patient and family. This table is a quick reference for what each might cost, along with a few differences between them.  


Palliative Care




Care Provided

Help with daily living, medication management 

Help with daily living, memory therapies

Average Monthly Cost



Who Should Consider It

Those who need help with daily living

Those with memory impairment


When a patient with a terminal illness is given approximately 6 months to live, they become eligible for hospice care, which focuses on end-of-life comfort. Depending on the specific needs of the individual patient, such care could include pain management, as well as spiritual and psychological counseling. Curative treatment isn’t included in hospice care plans. Typical care plans include nursing visits to address physical symptoms the patient is experiencing, as well as help with bathing and grooming.

Hospice care services may include regular visits from a social worker to help the family coordinate resources. Counseling services are also provided to the family and loved ones of the diagnosed patient to help them navigate the difficult process and give their terminally ill loved one as much support as possible. Additionally, hospice services continue during and after the patient’s death, at which time they focus on bereavement counseling for the family, along with funeral and burial arrangements. 

Hospice care is often included in the services provided in some independent apartment communities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there are approximately 4,700 hospice providers in the United States. These facilities must meet all federal and state regulations, just as any other health care facility does. 

Most private health insurance and Medicare, Medicaid and VA benefits cover the cost of hospice care.

Palliative Care

The point at which a patient is diagnosed with terminal and serious illnesses such as heart failure, cancer, dementia and Parkinson’s disease, among others, they are directed into palliative care. Hospice care, as discussed above, is a particular type of palliative care. 

Palliative care, as a whole, is focused on improving the patient’s quality of life and alleviating difficult symptoms after the diagnosis of a terminal illness. It also supports patients and their families by providing education and resources to guide them during this often challenging time. 

Some other terms for palliative care could include comfort care or end-of-life care. Whatever the term used, palliative care is a large component of health care, especially among aging patients. Additionally, it is part of many independent apartment communities, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living communities but can also be offered at the patient’s home. Really, it’s up to the patient and their caregiver to determine which types of palliative care best fit their needs. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When does hospice care begin? 

A health care provider will refer the patient to hospice care when they’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. Following this referral, a hospice program representative will reach out to the patient and family within a few days to schedule a visit. If hospice care is needed immediately, this process might be quicker. 

How can I make sure the best hospice care is being provided?

Not only are hospice providers required to follow federal regulatory standards, but they must also use satisfaction surveys to ensure they’re meeting the needs of the individuals and families they serve. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization defines the quality standards for hospice care programs within the United States. 

Do nurses stay overnight in palliative and hospice care? 

A common hospice care schedule is three times a week for one-hour sessions. Although hospice care is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, hospice care nurses don’t stay overnight unless the patient’s needs require it.