Palliative care is not a term that we use in our everyday vocabulary. It is usually relegated to the halls of hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. However, the more we know about palliative care the more we can access it to ease pain and suffering caused by chronic diseases.
The goal of palliative care is to control pain and manage the symptoms of the disease. It focuses on improving the quality of one’s life rather than curing the disease. In some cases, it can include hospice care but not always. For example, palliative care offers comfort for physical, emotional and/or spiritual pain whether the person is suffering from a terminal illness or is fighting a disease like cancer. Many clinicians including physicians, nurses, home health aids and social workers have specialty training and certification in palliative care. You can ask your loved one’s physician or nurse to connect you with palliative care services.
Here are the different types of palliative care.
Hospice based palliative care. This type of palliative care is aimed at managing some of the physical symptoms that accompany terminal illness like nausea, shortness of breath and side effects from medication. It also tries to bring a measure of comfort to the patient by addressing anxiety, depression and/or insomnia. Palliative care in hospice uses many tools to comfort patients and improve their quality of life including music, art, meditation and pet therapy. If the patient expresses an interest, hospice can also provide chaplains to address the patient’s spiritual needs.
Palliative care without hospice. Not all palliative care is delivered at end of life. Patients need comfort during painful treatments for cancer or while coping with the debilitating effects of progressive diseases like Parkinson’s. Palliative care can help to ease the pain of rigorous chemotherapy and radiation treatments and help the patient to tolerate the side effects. Patients can receive palliative care at any point in their illness; whenever it is beneficial for them to receive specialized pain management services.
The National Cancer Institute1 lists the following types of palliative care that each patient can receive:
Relieve of physical symptoms. Cancer treatments including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can cause side effects that can include pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, and shortness of breath. Palliative care helps to relieve these symptoms through medications, nutrition therapy, physical therapy and complementary therapies like deep breathing techniques and meditation.
Support for emotional challenges. Palliative care provides services that help patients and their families cope with a diagnosis of cancer or a terminal disease. The fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and palliative care provides coping strategies. Counseling, support groups, family meetings and/or referrals to a geriatric care manager can help the patient and family to make the journey through treatment.
Help with practical matters. Patients who are very ill and receiving daily treatment may find it challenging to take care of daily financial matters, maintain their job and navigate complex insurance requirements. The palliative care team can help to coordinate support services that can ease these concerns and help with the details.
Spiritual support. Some patients and families want to have spiritual support during their treatments, especially when they are too sick to go to their place of worship. Palliative care teams include spiritual advisors who can support the patient and/or family.
Palliative care does not end with the patient. Family members are often on the front lines of care and they need support as well. Members of the palliative care team can help these caregivers cope with stress, worry, and uncertainty and support them along the care journey.
Palliative care is an important part of disease management. If your loved one is diagnosed with or suffers from, a chronic disease ask his or her physician about palliative care. Accessing these services can reduce pain and suffering for your loved one and support you as well.