Understanding Palliative Care

It's Not About Death. It's About Dignity.

Palliative Care
Palliative care is about relieving pain. It is not age-based or used just near death. It is a vital service that improves the quality of life for patients.. Getty Images

Palliative Care gets a bum wrap. Mostly that is because it is associated with death and dying. But at its core it is about relieving suffering and that can help anyone at any age without regards to whether they are near death. Understanding palliative care is vital if we are to deliver the best care in the best environment for the lowest costs.

Palliative can give people a longer quality of life during any stage of life.

There is a nuance there that most people do not appreciate.

Palliative care is specialized care for those severely sick. It is focused on giving relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of an illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both patient and family

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness.

Patients Who May Benefit

These include those suffering from:

  • cancer
  • cardiac disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • kidney failure
  • Alzheimer's
  • ALS

Palliative care relieves pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

Palliative Partnership

Social workers, chaplains, massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists and others may also support the care team. This team provides:

  • Guidance with treatment choices
  • Emotional and spiritual support
  • Education
  • Providing respite care
  • Providing help with transportation, meals, and shopping

It is a service not just for the dying and that is a key takeaway.

Though a relatively new field, medical schools have palliative care programs and are teaching medical students and residents about palliative care.

The Patient is the Center of Care

Patients begin care as soon as someone is diagnosed with a serious illness even as they continue to pursue a cure. Some patients recover and move out of palliative care. Others move in and out as the need arises.

A care plan and a strategy that meets the patient's goals and values is carefully designed. The patient is a vital part of the care team. For some the goal might be to live as long as possible. For others, the quality of each day is important.

Equally important is the emotional support that this care provides for patients and family members. In August 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study where researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that advanced lung cancer patients who received early palliative care actually had lower rates of depression and better quality of life.

Palliative care is holistic.

As more people want to not only age in place but live to the end of their lives in their homes, palliative care is not just about care in hospitals or long-term care facilities.

It is a vital component of a home health program.

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