Individuals and their loved ones dealing with a serious illness can easily and quickly become overwhelmed. They may experience debilitating symptoms and suffer from anxiety brought on by their situation. They often find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar world that requires frequent travel to specialists and labs, deciphering new medical jargon, and making difficult decisions about treatment options.
Palliative care is a specialized care model, focusing on the quality of life and addressing those needs and more. Research has found that early use of palliative care services can improve the quality of life for patients with serious illness and decrease depression and anxiety and increase patient and family satisfaction. Early intervention of palliative care, including active symptom management provided with disease-modifying care can improve quality of life, minimize invasive interventions, and potentially extend survival.
Palliative Care vs. Hospice
Sometimes people confuse palliative care with hospice care. Hospice and Palliative care are patient-centered medical practices designed to provide care and assistance for patients living with serious illnesses. The primary difference is that hospice is for end-of-life care (defined by Medicare as an individual with a life expectancy of 6-months or less if the disease runs its natural course). Palliative care treats people of any age living with serious or chronic illness, regardless of their life expectancy or prognosis. Palliative care can be received by patients at any time, at any stage of illness, whether it’s terminal or not.
How Palliative Care Works
A patient’s needs determine a specially trained palliative care team. It may include doctors, nurses and other specialists and a patient’s physician, but may also include other experts, such as chaplains, counselors, pharmacists, dietitians, rehabilitation specialists, physical therapists, music and art therapists and home health aides.
Providence Life Services offers a specially trained palliative care team, including a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists. The team works collaboratively with the patient, their family and the patient’s physician to customize a plan to fit the patient’s life and needs. The team strives to help alleviate patient and family suffering and help patients and their families navigate the complexities involved with serious illness and promote patient quality of care.
Palliative Care Teams Can Assist with Difficult Medical Decisions
The palliative care team will also provide information to help patients and their loved ones make difficult medical decisions. Patients with serious illness frequently have many complicated and overwhelming decisions to make. They may also wonder if they are receiving the best and most appropriate treatment. Palliative doctors and team members can explain the options and guide patients in making the best decisions by providing the big picture. They can and will also help patients weigh the benefits and potential burdens of possible side effects to help them make the decision that feels most comfortable.
Palliative Care Teams Can Address All Symptoms
Serious illness can cause many different types of suffering. There may be physical pain, but a serious illness can cause emotional and spiritual suffering. Patients may be frustrated if they can no longer do things they once were able to do, or feel lonely, overwhelmed by financial concerns or worried about their family’s future. Palliative team members can also play an essential role in providing emotional support. Rather than lecture patients or tell them what to do or how to feel, they listen to a patient’s fears and concerns, empathize with them, and help them understand the options.
Palliative Care Can Help With the Emotional Impact of Serious Illness
Psychological distress is a common occurrence among patients with a serious illness and is strongly correlated with low life quality. The palliative care team can help distinguish between clinical depression and situational depression to ensure early intervention for the former. The palliative care team also works to improve mood through aggressive symptom management and psychosocial and spiritual support.
While the patient’s comfort is at the forefront, palliative care also offers some support to a patient’s family members, such as counseling. The palliative care team also honors the patient’s religious and cultural influences to support patients and their families and ensure culturally sensitive care.
When to Consider Palliative Care
There’s a common misconception that you have to wait until your illness is in a later stage or terminal to get palliative care. Several studies suggest that palliative care is most effective when started early. For example, a 2018 review of people with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) recommended early adoption of palliative care, which improves both quality of life and overall survival.
If you or a loved one has a serious illness, palliative care may be an option you want to consider. Talk to your doctor to find out more about palliative care and what you need to do to get this type of care. We’re always happy to share our palliative care options with you.