Palliative Care – What Is This Late Life Care Alternative?

We are hearing more and more about death and dying as our society ages. Becoming more comfortable discussing these topics is a positive step, as it is estimated that 60% of people wish to discuss death more.

Talking about options and learning more about what can and can’t be done is empowering for family caregivers and their senior loved ones.

There have been many strides in caring for a person at the end of life. Medical science has advanced greatly, even to the point that it is able to keep people alive past the time when quality of life is what many people would consider “optimal.”

How can we combine a good quality of life with end of life decisions?

A recent study suggests that Americans are living lives that are longer and healthier…until the final few years of our lives, that is, when many are experiencing very poor health with frequent hospitalizations.

Palliative Care Benefits

Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an approach that improves quality of life when faced with life-threatening illness through the prevention and relief of suffering. Palliative care recognizes death as part of life, attempts to relieve pain, doesn’t postpone or hasten death, includes a team approach for both supporting the person and the family and can be provided in combination with treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

These are some key aspects and insights about palliative care.

  • No terminal diagnosis or imminent death is prerequisite to receive the services of a palliative care plan.
  • It can help you manage symptoms and side effects through the treatment process.
  • It allows one to go on with their day to day activities.
  • Palliative care provides emotional and spiritual support, in addition to education on the disease process and treatment options, to the patient and the entire family.
  • The palliative care team can include doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors, dietitians/nutritionists, massage therapists, chaplains, pharmacists, aides, social workers and others.
  • Applicable to patients of any age, for any period of time, and throughout the duration of an illness.
  • Provides for the end of life to be faced with dignity, honoring the patient’s wishes.
  • Helps patients live with a disease through its entire course and not just near the end.
  • Receive homecare where desired and feasible, as well as in an institution.

What can palliative care mean to one of our senior loved ones? A New England Journal of Medicine report states that those taking part in a palliative care program show fewer signs of depression, had improved quality of life and lived an average of 2.7 months longer.

How is Hospice Different From Palliative Care?

Hospice also is an approach to care that focuses on relieving pain and suffering but is effective nearer the end of life when death is within six months. It does not include any curative treatment so is not provided in combination with treatment plans such as chemotherapy and radiation.

The primary focus of hospice is comfort at the end of life not aggressive treatment. Dignity at the end of life is an important focus. Hospice, like palliative care, does not hasten or postpone death and deals with the family unit and provides bereavement services after death in support of the family caregivers. Care under a hospice program is primarily provided in the home but can be administered in an inpatient facility and long term care facility.

Because it is estimated that 90 million Americans are living with a serious and life-threatening illness, there is broad agreement about a pressing need for palliative services and programs.

If you feel that your senior loved one or other family members could benefit from a palliative care program, we encourage you discuss it with your family physician. It is not only the person with the illness that can benefit from such programs, but family caregivers as well.

Simply getting concerns and care options out in open discussion among family members will be beneficial to everyone involved including the senior.

2 thoughts on “Palliative Care – What Is This Late Life Care Alternative?”

  1. I find that palliative care is often interpreted as “giving up”. When really, palliative care is a shift in focus on treating the symptoms rather than the disease. Palliative care still means that you get medication for pain, and oxygen is you are short of breath. Those are interventions to treat the symptoms of the disease. I also like that you point out that counseling and education are key components of palliative care. Being informed is crucial!

    • Thanks for your comments. We agree that palliative care and hospice do NOT signal a do nothing, give up approach. Much care remains to be given in these special programs to benefit the person and their family members. The more information we share, the better treatment all will seek!

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