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End of Life Care

Providing Comfort: Palliative Care

Article Highlights

  • Defining palliative care
  • Use referrals when finding a physician
  • Hospice vs. Palliative Care

En español | Palliative care addresses the needs of patients who have chronic and/or life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and cancer. A medical specialty, palliative care enhances the individual’s overall quality of life by providing a wide range of services. Learn what palliative care is all about and find out how it treats the whole person rather than the symptoms around an illness or the illness in general.

See also: Dealing with Pain: How to Help Your Loved One.

What Is Palliative Care?
In general, palliative care is an umbrella term that refers to relieving symptoms while not pursuing a cure for the disease. It is a team-oriented approach for people whose illnesses do not respond to curative treatment. Palliative care focuses on the management of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of patients and their families so that they can live life to the fullest each day. While a person can receive palliative care at any stage of his or her illness, it plays its biggest role at the end of life. With the introduction of a new medical field of expertise devoted solely to palliative care, the term has come to mean much more than pain management.

How Does Palliative Care Work?
Palliative care focuses on the whole person during the course of the illness. To do this, it brings together a diverse team of professionals, including:

  • Physicians.
  • Nurses.
  • Pharmacists.
  • Social workers.
  • Pastoral counselors.
  • Physical therapists.
  • Occupational therapists.
  • Music therapists.
  • Art therapists.
  • Specially trained volunteers.

This team works with the patient and family members to provide a continuum of care that can begin with the onset of an illness or whenever comfort, support and quality of life issues become significant concerns.

Palliative Care Facts

  • Some patients receive palliative care and continue to pursue other life-prolonging programs, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
  • General physicians are typically key members of the palliative care team and can coordinate services and participate in care.
  • Palliative care is offered in a wide range of locations, including doctors’ offices, clinics, long-term care settings and at home. Many medical institutions have begun to develop palliative care programs on site to augment their existing services.
  • Medical organizations and professionals recognize palliative care as not only one of the newest disciplines in the health care field, but as a medical specialty. Professionals who specialize in palliative medicine receive special training and certification.
  • Several organizations, such as the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, provide referrals to physicians who specialize in palliative care.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care
Hospice care and palliative care are related, but different. Palliative care is the attention to and treatment of symptoms, regardless of the cause. Its a focus of health care that can, and should, be a part of all health care at all times. Hospice care is for people at the end of their lives, who will not recover from their illness. Hospice care is palliative care for the last six months of life. People in hospice care are no longer seeking a cure, or curative treatment. People at the end of life have a choice: to keep trying treatments hoping for an extension of life or a cure, or to focus on quality of life, and let nature take its course. To learn more about hospice care, click here. Also, watch our video on palliative care.

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