Palliative means “relieving or soothing the symptoms of a disease or disorder.” Many people mistakenly believe this means you receive palliative care only when you can’t be cured. Actually, palliative medicine can be provided by one doctor while other doctors work with you to try to cure your illness.
Palliative care is for people of any age, and at any stage in an illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic or life-threatening. In fact, palliative care may actually help you recover from your illness by relieving symptoms such as pain, anxiety or loss of appetite, as you undergo sometimes-difficult medical treatments or procedures, such as surgery or chemotherapy.
The overall goal of palliative care is to improve your and your family’s quality of life while you are ill, and can be provided at a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility or in your home. Palliative care is provided by a team, including a palliative doctor, nurses, social workers, and other professionals. The palliative team basically provides relief from pain and other uncomfortable symptoms, assists you in making difficult medical decisions, coordinates care with your other doctors , helps you navigate the often-complex health care system, guides you in making a plan for living well, based on your needs, concerns and goals for care and provides you and your loved ones emotional and spiritual support and guidance.
There is a specific type of palliative care – called hospice – for people for whom a cure is no longer possible and who likely have six months or less to live. Hospice care can be provided at your home, at a hospice facility, a hospital or a nursing home. Hospice care is about giving you control, dignity and comfort so you have the best possible quality of life during the time you have.
You may worry that agreeing to palliative care means giving up hope for a cure. That is not the case at all. In fact, palliative care can help you cope with aggressive treatments by getting your pain and symptoms under control to help you fight the disease. For instance, one study found patients with cancer who receive palliative care were more likely to complete chemotherapy treatment and reported a higher quality of life than those who didn’t receive palliative care.
Palliative care helps you achieve quality of life as you define it. The palliative doctor and team explain the pros and cons of your treatment options so you can make informed decisions about how you want to manage your illness and symptoms, and live your life. They also can provide emotional and spiritual support and resources. In other words, they are concerned about you, not just your illness.
These things make sense intuitively, but they also translate into tangible benefits. There is a wealth of evidence that people who receive palliative care (including hospice care when a cure is out of reach) are highly satisfied, as are their loved ones.
There may come a time when efforts to cure or slow an illness are not working and can even be harmful, rather than helpful. If that time comes, you should know that there’s a type of palliative care – called hospice – that can help ensure that your final months of life are as good and fulfilling as they can be for you and your loved ones. Hospice is not about giving up. It’s about giving you comfort, control, dignity and quality of life.
Insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid will generally provide coverage for hospice care if your doctors determine you likely have six months – in some cases a year – or less to live if your illness follows its normal course. Unfortunately, most people don’t receive hospice care until the final weeks or even days of life, possibly missing out on months of quality time. This may be out of fear that choosing hospice means losing out on a chance for a cure. Sometimes doctors fear that their patients will feel abandoned if they suggest hospice.
So how do you know when it’s time for hospice care? When to request hospice care is a personal decision, but it’s important to understand that at a certain point, doing “everything possible” may no longer be helping you. Sometimes the burdens of a treatment outweigh the benefits. For instance, an aggressive treatment might give you another month of life, but make you feel too ill to enjoy that time. Palliative doctors can help you assess the advantages and disadvantages of specific treatments.
To learn more about hospice and palliative care, call us at 561-588-4545. Thanks so much for watching and we’ll see you next Wednesday!