The American population is aging, is living with complex chronic illness, and the demand for Palliative Care is growing. Unfortunately, many patients struggle to access palliative care and many Americans are not aware of what Palliative Care is and how it can help. Here we shed light on Palliative Care.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative Care is a type of medical care to improve the quality of life, comfort, and resilience of seriously ill patients as well as their families. Seriously ill patients are those with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, organ failure, or dementia that negatively impact the life of the patient as well as causing tremendous stress for the caregiver. Importantly, Palliative Care can be provided at any age, stage of illness, prognosis, or treatment choice, and can be provided together with life-prolonging and curative treatment. You don’t have to choose between treatment for the illness and palliative care, you can have both.
Palliative care is provided by an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains to assess and manage the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual stressors associated with serious illness. Palliative care can be provided both in-person and through telepalliative care by palliative care specialists working with health systems, home health agencies, and private companies.
How Can Palliative Care Help?
A Palliative Care specialist can help in several ways:
- Assess & Manage: poorly controlled symptoms
- Understand: your illness, expected trajectory, treatment options.
- Explore: your hopes, wishes, worries,
- Identify: your goals, your values, what’s most important to you
- Discuss and Document: your advance care plan, advance directives such as a health care proxy, and preferences regarding medical treatments at the end-of-life.
For someone living with cancer, a palliative care specialist will collaborate with the cancer doctor to help manage pain caused by cancer as well as managing the side effects of treatment – such as nausea, vomiting, constipation. They can also help in identifying what is most important to the patient, what their goals and values are, and make sure to align treatment choices with these goals. Importantly, the palliative care specialist can help the patient AND their loved ones cope better with the anxieties and stress of illness.
For a patient living with Dementia, the palliative care team will help manage symptoms of confusion or agitation as well as harnessing community resources such as home health aids or a visiting nurse to support the caregiver. The palliative care specialist can also help the caregiver anticipate what could arise in the setting of dementia and help them think through a plan for the future.
Palliative Care Improves Lives
Palliative Care improves the quality of life of patients and their families by reducing mental and physical distress and discomfort. It has also been shown to help patients live longer. The prolonged survival is thought to be due to improved quality of life, appropriate administration of disease-directed treatments, and early referral to hospice for intensive symptom management and stabilization.
Palliative Care Is Not Hospice Care
Palliative Care and Hospice Care share a similar overarching philosophy; however they are distinct services. In the US, hospice care is provided to patients near the end of life, with a high risk of dying in the next six months and who will no longer benefit from or have chosen to forego life prolonging or illness related treatments. In choosing Hospice Care, the focus changes from life-prolonging medical treatments to comfort-focused medical treatments. Importantly, Hospice care neither hastens nor prolongs the dying process, instead it optimizes the quality of life for the time remaining. Learn more about the differences between Palliative Care and Hospice Care.
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EpioneMD Can Help
If you or someone you know is living with a serious illness, connect with an EpioneMD coach, and together we can help you identify your goals and values, develop a framework for making medical decisions, and help you align your treatment choices with your values. If you’re not sure if palliative care is right for you connect with an EpioneMD coach and learn more about palliative care and if it could benefit you or a loved one