Many people who have been diagnosed with chronic, life-threatening illnesses are not yet ready for end-of-life hospice. Until recently, they may have felt "in between" in terms of the options available to serve their needs. A relatively new medical specialty known as "palliative care" has emerged as a response to this void. Focused on enhancing quality of life for the chronically or severely ill, palliative care offers new hope for patients, families and caregivers.
Are you familiar with the ABCs of palliative care?
An Overview of Palliative Care
While hospice primarily serves the dying, palliative care -- also called supportive care, comfort care, and symptom management -- has a different aim: to provide care and comfort to the living.
Over the past decade alone, many medical schools in the United States have introduced palliative care programs designed to educate physicians and other healthcare professionals on the topic.
Palliative care typically begins when a patient is diagnosed with a serious disease. Unlike hospice care, this occurs while a cure is still being pursued; palliative care leaves room for recovery. In fact, many patients recover and move on from palliative care. Others use it on an as-needed basis, while still others transition into hospice care if the disease progresses beyond treatment.
Palliative care providers work together as part of a team comprising a doctor, nurse, and social work. Others may also be involved, including everyone from psychiatrists and physical therapists to chaplains, dietitians and massage therapists.
Measuring Quality of Life
There's no universal measurement to assess quality of life. Each patient is unique, with his/her own plans, desires, and family dynamics. Because of this, palliative care adopts a patient-centered approach in which care strategies are targeted to each individual's needs.
Holistic in viewpoint, palliative care extends beyond the purely clinical to treat every area of life, including the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of living with a serious disease. It can involve everything from home help to educational resources to respite care for caregivers.
While palliative care may be new, research already indicates its great potential. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine determined that cancer patients who received early palliative care not only lived longer, but also had lower rates of depression, fewer hospitalizations, better symptom management, and overall improved quality of life compared to those who merely received standard treatment.
Is Palliative Care Right For Your Aging Loved One?
Palliative care is covered by health insurance in most cases. If your loved one suffers from a serious illness, ask his/her healthcare provider about whether palliative care is an option. In addition to physician referrals, palliative care providers can be found through national resources, including Get Palliative Care.org, Palliative Doctors.org, and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
This palliative care team shares a common goal:
improving quality of life for patients and their families.
If you're concerned that seeking out palliative care may mean moving on from your trusted healthcare team, set those fears aside. Your current providers will work closely with the multidisciplinary palliative care team every step of the way. Do you know someone for whom palliative care would be useful? If so, please share this message with them. For access to an extensive collection of professional and family caregiver training videos, visit mmLearn.org.