More than 70 percent of Americans have never heard of palliative care. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
Like hospice care, palliative care focuses on patients’ comfort through medication and other therapies. Those who continue to seek curative treatment for their disease can receive palliative care throughout their treatment. Hospice is a type of palliative care, and its goal is similar: patient comfort. A person can choose hospice care when he or she decides to forgo further curative treatments and has a life expectancy of 6 months or less, should the disease follow its normal course.
Palliative care can begin at diagnosis and can be continued through curative treatments. For example, a patient diagnosed with lung cancer can immediately begin chemotherapy and palliative care together. Palliative care for
those undergoing chemotherapy, for example, can include medications to treat nausea, shortness of breath and pain.
Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers and other specialists who work together with a patient’s doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.
The palliative care team spends time communicating deeply with patients. They will give patients control over their care by truly exploring their goals and helping them to understand their options. They will help patients gain the strength to carry on with daily life and improve their quality of life.
When one is diagnosed with a serious, potentially fatal illness, many emotions come to the forefront. Fear of pain, fear of treatments, fear of what happens next. I urge anyone who is in this situation to ask for a palliative consultation with your doctor or with your hospital’s palliative care team.