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Understanding Palliative Care

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An elderly man receiving palliative care
Palliative care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

The term “palliative care” can cause many people to draw a blank. Many people think it’s just a synonym for hospice care. However, that’s an inaccurate assumption. Here’s some information that may help you better understand palliative care.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is one of many types of palliative care. If your loved one is in the hospital with a terminal illness, the doctor may suggest that the family talk with someone in the hospice department of the hospital. This is the first encounter many people have with the concept of hospice care.

Hospice care is typically delivered during the end stages of a final illness. Hospice care may be given in the hospital, in a hospice care center, or in the home. This type of treatment focuses on keeping the person as comfortable as possible, including pain management and emotional distress.

Palliative Care

Palliative care encompasses quality of life issues for people who have severe ongoing health issues or life-threatening conditions. You don’t have to be in the end stages of life to receive palliative care. The doctor who treats your medical condition can refer you to a palliative care specialist.

The services the palliative care specialist can provide include:

  • Reducing your symptoms
  • Relieving your pain
  • Providing general physical comfort
  • Providing spiritual comfort

Because palliative care can help the patient achieve a better outcome, many doctors prescribe this type of treatment for conditions like multiple sclerosis, cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, severe kidney disease and other significant conditions. Anyone who needs help managing a major health crisis or ongoing illness that is life-changing can benefit from palliative care.

Myth-Busting Palliative Care

There are many misconceptions about palliative care. Here are some of the most common:

  • You have to be dying to get palliative care.
    • This is not true. People with severe injuries or illnesses can receive palliative care, whether they are expected to make a full recovery, have life-long limitations, or not survive the illness. You can be two years old or 92 years old.
  • Palliative care is a way for people addicted to painkillers to get a steady supply of drugs.
    • This is also not true. Palliative care does not give you unrestricted access to painkillers. Medical professionals will determine the appropriate level of medications for your condition. You must have a significant medical condition to qualify for palliative care.
  • The people who provide palliative care services are “hippie dippies” and not medical professionals.
    • This isn’t true. Your primary care doctor will be part of your treatment planning team, along with the medical professionals who are appropriate for your condition. Your team might include a doctor who specializes in medical care, nurses, physical therapists, a dietician or nutritionist, psychologist, social worker and spiritual advisor.
  • You have to stop your medical treatment to go on palliative care.
    • This is also not true. Palliative care works in conjunction with the medical treatment that your primary care doctor prescribes.
  • Palliative care is for people who refuse traditional medical care and prescription medicines.
    • This is not true. Palliative care incorporates both traditional medical care and complementary services. Palliative care also often involves prescription drugs for pain control.

With a better understanding of palliative care, more people can benefit from these services and manage major health challenges more comfortably.

References:

A Place for Mom. “Palliative Care: Facts and Questions.” (accessed August 7, 2019) https://www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/articles/palliative-care

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