According to the World Health Organization1, palliative care improves the quality of life (physical, psychological, social and spiritual) for patients and families dealing with serious and life-threatening illness. Palliative care may also improve the overall quality of life for caregivers as well as family members of the person receiving palliative care.
What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a holistic approach to comfort care designed by a specialized team of healthcare providers in order to support an individual at any age and in any stage of a serious, chronic or terminal illness. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for the patient and their families and assist with greater caregiving.
Read More: What Is Palliative Care?
What are the Benefits of Palliative Care?
Palliative care may begin at any stage of illness; however, the earlier palliative care begins, the greater the impact on quality of life for the patient and families. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is not solely focused on end of life care or have a life expectancy requirement to receive quality of life improving medicare care. While palliative care offers pain management as a large scope of comfort care, it may often include other benefits that aim to improve life quality.
Related: What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice?
A significant benefit of palliative supportive care is that it can be provided in the comfort of a patient’s home. Besides a variety of locations palliative care are offered, it can also benefit the patient, the family and caregivers by:
- Providing pain relief and reducing physical symptoms alongside curative treatments
- Medication side effect management
- Psychosocial and spiritual support
- Assistance with evaluating medical treatment options and decision making
- Emotional support
This type of comfort care assists in the improvement of quality of life and can also help patients live longer and decrease nonessential hospital visits.2
Related: The 5 Stages of Palliative Care
When Should Someone Be Offered Palliative Care?
Palliative care can begin at any stage of serious illness and at any age. Ideally, palliative care begins shortly after diagnosis, as prognosis of the illness or condition may improve alongside palliative care.
Patients with various illnesses, both serious and life threatening, as well as chronic conditions are candidates for palliative care. These illnesses can include: heart failure / heart disease, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease or cancer.
Read more: Palliative Care for Dementia
The patient age can range from prenatal to elderly. While many symptoms may prompt a referral to a palliative care team, some key factors may include: frequent hospital admissions, frequent doctor visits, complicated medical needs, overall decline in function, need for extra care, need for advanced directives and care planning.
If a patient is experiencing symptoms such as: weight loss, issues with mobility and alertness, falling more frequently, uncontrolled pain, shortness of breath, trouble with daily activity, and increased trips to the hospital or emergency room, this may be indications it is time to find palliative care. These are just a few examples of symptoms palliative care may assist with; you should consult your doctor to weigh in on your specific situation.
When deciding if palliative care is appropriate for a patient and their family, a referral is made through a healthcare professional to a palliative care specialist. The initial palliative care conversation with the healthcare professional may include topics such as:
- The type of care necessary in order to manage the condition and improve quality of life
- Type of symptoms and availability of treatments
- Daily activities assistance
- Wishes and expectations
- What the palliative care team and treatment plan may look like
Who Provides Palliative Care?
Palliative care is provided by a team of palliative care specialists. A doctor or physician may refer a patient to a palliative care specialist who coordinates a palliative care team of holistic care professionals that may include a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, chaplains, and counselors. This team varies depending on a patient’s individual needs.
How do you Determine when a Patient Needs Palliative Care?
A doctor or physician will determine the need for palliative care based on the diagnosis of an illness or condition. A patient is always welcome to ask about a palliative care referral.