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What is Palliative Care and Why it’s Important

Whether you or someone you care about is seriously ill, having palliative care options is important for reducing pain and stress while suffering from an illness. The medical specialty has helped millions of patients and families cope with the day-to-day challenges of living with a serious illness.

What is palliative care?

According to WHO, palliative care is a program that enhances the quality of life of residents and their families, working with challenges that connect with a life-threatening illness. Palliative care helps prevent and relieve suffering with pain that is physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Along with providing relief from pain, it helps offer support for a family to understand the patient’s illness. “As caregivers, we act as a support system to help assist families with complex decision making, educating patients and their families to understand an individual’s condition and their choices for care,” said Elderwood’s Chief Nursing Officer Rebecca Littler. “With palliative care, it’s essential to offer comfort plans designed with the wishes in mind for the patient to help manage physical symptoms and manage with the stress of illness, from diagnosis through end-of-life care.”

Palliative care utilizes a team strategy to approach patients’ and families’ needs if counseling is required. Palliative care offers help with decision making, educating patients to understand an individual’s condition and their choices for care.

Palliative care is typically provided in hospitals, skilled nursing settings, or in the comfort of your own home. The palliative care team patients and families will work with consists of physicians, nurses and social workers.

How to find palliative care

When figuring out how to find palliative care, your primary care physician is the best place to start. There are a variety of healthcare settings that offer palliative care like assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics and hospice.

“Physicians or community representatives can help assist a patient and inform them of their palliative care options,” said Angela Hauser, administrator at Elderwood at Amherst. The Elderwood healthcare continuum is a leading provider of senior care in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, that offers palliative care services. “At skilled nursing facilities like ours, the palliative care team will work closely with the patient’s physician.”

Is palliative and hospice care the same?

Palliative and hospice care have similarities and differences. Both care options provide comfort. “Palliative care complements life-prolonging treatment during an extended period of time or for terminal illness, said Littler.”

The difference between the care options is that palliative care often begins at diagnosis of illness, while hospice care begins after treatment of the disease has stopped. Hospice care is intended for those who are not going to survive their illness, with a life expectancy of six months or less.

Why palliative is important

The support given during palliative care helps create a positive experience that offers patients and their families the opportunity to make the most of their time together while receiving treatment.

There are many positives like helping improve quality of life, positively impacting treatment during an illness. Palliative care is suitable in the beginning stages of treatment to help prolong life. The care provided may help guide healthcare decisions with an advance directive from treatment options like chemotherapy and radiation.

“While palliative care helps patients choose pain and symptom management, the care provided is important because it enhances life quality while pursuing therapeutic measures,” said Littler.

The spiritual aspect of palliative care

Not only can dealing with chronic illness impact you physically, it can take a toll on your mental health. Spiritual care in palliative care is essential as it helps the patient to continue living with meaning and lean on faith and spirituality to get through the day-to-day struggles during treatment.

Many palliative care options offer a chaplain, pastor or spiritual advisor to assist with taking care of the mind and spirit. Spiritual care in palliative care consist of meeting the patient’s spiritual needs as well as the family’s spiritual needs. Spiritual care first and foremost assures that the patient’s spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs and needs are recognized, provided for and respected across the healthcare team,.

Spiritual care assists the patient and family in making ethical decisions regarding treatment or non-treatment which correspond with the patient’s values, morals, religious or spiritual beliefs and wishes.  Spiritual care is also offered to the patient’s family members who may be struggling mentally, emotionally or spiritually with their loved one’s illness. The chaplain supports the family throughout the entire treatment process and can provide family counseling, act as a liaison between the patient, family and staff.

Learn more about palliative care options here.

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