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Understanding palliative care

Still waters on a lake, calming like palliative care

By Terre Mirsch

As palliative care becomes an integral part of mainstream medical care, confusion continues to exist among health professionals, consumers, and caregivers regarding the similarities and differences between palliative care and hospice care services.

Palliative care is aimed at improving symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties, stomach distress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression, to name a few, that accompany serious illness disease and its treatment. Palliative care is typically provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists including social workers, chaplains, dieticians, pharmacists, and allied therapists. Palliative care services are most commonly provided by hospitals, home care agencies, and hospices. Some long term care facilities also provide palliative care services.

Hospice is a model for quality, compassionate care and ensures comfort, dignity and support for patients facing life-limiting illness and their loved ones by providing expert medical care, pain management, emotional and spiritual support, and practical help in the home. The interdisciplinary hospice team, consisting of nurses, social workers, chaplains, hospice aides, volunteers, allied therapists, and bereavement professionals, provides support to patients and their families in home, long term care or other facility setting, or in an inpatient hospice unit.

While primary objectives of both include comfort, quality of life, and holistic, interdisciplinary team support for the patient and family, there are important differences. Understanding these differences can help ensure that your loved one gets the right care and support throughout the course of an illness.

Below are some important facts about palliative care services.

  • Palliative care can be provided at any point throughout the course of a serious illness, even at the time of diagnosis. As illness progresses, palliative care may play an increasingly important role in the provision of your loved one’s care.
  • Palliative care is not dependent on life expectancy. Those that may be cured of their illness, those that may live for many years, and those with a shorter life expectancy may all benefit from palliative care services.
  • Palliative care can be provided at the same time as treatment that is intended to cure illness or prolong life. In fact, studies have shown that people tolerate their treatments better, feel that they have more control over their care, and may live longer when they receive palliative care services.
  • Palliative care can help you and your family to better understand the nature of your loved ones illness, and choices for care.

In other words, palliative care is available to anyone with a serious illness that has concerns about physical symptoms, or who needs emotional or spiritual support. The goal is improvement in quality of life, an important value and priority for many with serious illness. Understanding the facts surrounding this important service can help you be an advocate for your loved one’s care.

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