Palliative care is the delivery of healthcare that is specialized to the needs of someone who has a serious illness. It is designed to help them feel better by treating the side effects of the disease and treatments, whether they are still in treatment for the illness or at the end of life. Palliative care treats the social, emotional, spiritual and everyday problems caused by suffering from a serious disease. It could be considered a big warm blanket that comforts a patient who is exhausted and in pain from fighting disease.
Palliative care begins when your loved one is diagnosed with a disease. The healthcare team should begin to incorporate palliative care into the treatment plan immediately. Some hospitals have specific palliative care teams and you should ask if your hospital has one that can work with your family. Members of the palliative care team can include:
- Doctors and nurses
- Social workers and psychologists
- Social workers and chaplains
- Massage therapists and Reiki practitioners
The team will work to address all the parts of life that the disease has impacted. They will work with the patient and the family to address the side effects of medical care such as:
- Difficulty eating
- Difficulty breathing
- Sleeping issues
- Fear and psychological issues
- Loneliness and isolation
Palliative care teams work with patients who are dealing with a wide range of diseases including cancer, kidney failure, dementia, heart disease and more. If your loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, the palliative care team can help you learn to balance life’s many issues while also caring for your loved one. Their goal is to make life easier for you and more comfortable for your loved one.
A palliative care team has many tools at their disposal to help patients and their families. They can:
- Prescribe medication to increase physical comfort.
- Refer the patient to physical and occupational therapy.
- Help with nutrition and daily meal planning.
- Refer your loved one to alternative therapies like Reiki, acupuncture, massage, art and music therapy.
Illness can bring a new set of problems and uncertainty as to how to handle them. Healthcare can be difficult to navigate and insurance can be complex to understand. Palliative care team members can help families to wind their way through these mazes to understand the process and get answers. They can help with practical issues such as insurance questions and legal issues including:
- Referring families to financial counseling to help pay rising medical bills and household bills.
- Find resources to help with transportation needs.
- Help to complete insurance and medical forms.
- Refer to resources to help with job-related problems and family leave.
Coping with a serious illness is a daunting prospect. It increases stress for the patient and family. Often the patient and/or family members feel depressed and isolated. The Palliative care team is trained to address these issues and can refer you and/or your loved one to groups that will support and care for these specific needs. Some of the things they can offer include:
- Disease-specific support groups.
- Counseling for depression and anxiety.
- Meetings where family members can express their thoughts and feelings.
- Mental health providers.
While the disease is treated, palliative care teams add comfort and solace to the patient and his or her family. When end of life is near, palliative care teams can help to control pain and help families navigate this uncertain and often unknown part of life.