If you or a loved one are dealing with a serious illness, palliative care might just be the thing you need! Many people have not heard of palliative care or are unsure about the benefits of palliative care. But, it’s worth your time to learn more because the benefits can be tremendous.
What is palliative care?
Simply put, palliative care improves the quality of life for seriously ill patients and their families. Palliative care is appropriate for patients in active treatment or for those at the end of life.
Palliative care focuses on the relief of side effects, discomfort, symptoms, emotional stress and other difficulties associated with serious illness. It does not replace primary medical treatment. Instead, palliative care teams work with patients’ medical teams to make life better for patients and families.
Who is on a palliative care team?
Typically, a palliative care team consists of doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists, religious or spiritual advisors and other professionals. The team works with the patient, family and the treating doctor(s) to develop and administer a program.
Palliative care eases symptoms and side effects.
A palliative care program may treat pain, depression, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, constipation, sleep issues, anxiety and many other symptoms. And, palliative care can ease side effects of treatments.
In addition to easing physical discomfort and pain, the team can help the patient and the family manage emotional stress. Also, the team can help make transitions between care settings smoother. For instance, moving from a hospital to a rehab center.
It can help with decision making.
The palliative care team helps patients and families understand treatment options. Additionally, the team works with the patient and family to learn the patient’s personal goals and desires.
The palliative care team improves communication.
A palliative care team improves communication between the patient and his/her medical team, and among the entire medical team. And, the palliative care team coordinates care with all medical team members. Furthermore, the team will make sure every member of the medical team treats the patient according to his/her desires.
Who can benefit from palliative care?
Patients of any age, including children, can benefit from this care at any stage of an illness or injury can benefits.
Where can patients receive these services?
Patients can receive these services at home, in a long-term care facility or in a hospital.
Palliative care is not hospice care.
Hospice care is for patients at the end of their lives. Although hospice care includes palliative care, not all palliative care includes hospice care. For more information on hospices, read my post The Pros and Cons of Hospice Care.
Research demonstrates the benefits of palliative care.
Recent studies show that patients who receive palliative care report improvement in:
- Pain, nausea, and shortness of breath.
- Communication with their health care providers and with their family members.
- A sense of receiving emotional support.
Moreover, research also shows that starting palliative care early in the course of an illness helps patients and families by:
- Ensuring that care is in accordance with patients’ wishes.
- Decreasing stress.
- Increasing confidence in decision making.
- Meeting their emotional and spiritual needs.
And research shows a positive impact on lung cancer patients.
A 3 year study of lung cancer patients at Massachusetts General Hospital identified the positive impact of palliative care. Among patients receiving traditional oncology treatments, those who started palliative care (such as pain relief measures) soon after diagnosis fared better than those who only received traditional treatments. Additionally, patients receiving palliative care “reported less depression and happier lives as measured on scales for pain, nausea, mobility, worry and other problems”. Furthermore, even though fewer of them opted for aggressive chemotherapy as their illnesses progressed, this group typically lived 3 months longer than the group getting standard care.
Will you or your loved one benefit?
Chances are, if you or a loved one is dealing with a serious illness or injury, palliative care is a good idea. However, there are a few indicators. Consider palliative care if you, or a loved one has physical and/or emotional pain that is not well controlled. Additionally, it’s a good idea for patients who need help understanding their illness and treatment options.
When should patients start receiving palliative care?
Certainly, the sooner the better! It’s never too early in the process. But, don’t worry, in most cases it’s never too late either.
How can patients get palliative care?
In order to receive palliative care, you’ll need to ask your doctor for a referral. This is required for patients in the hospital, at home or in a long-term care facility.
Who pays for this care?
Good news! Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, usually cover palliative care. But, before moving forward, it’s a good idea to call your insurance company and ask what services are covered, length of coverage, and expected co-payments.
Lastly, if you want more information, or you want to find palliative care in your area, visit www.GetPalliativeCare.org.