What is Palliative Care?
One of the first questions you may have when looking into end-of-life care for a loved one (or when looking to offer relief to a loved one with a prolonged illness) is, "What is palliative care?" Palliative care is a type of healthcare that focuses on relieving the symptoms of serious illnesses, like cancer. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the patient and their family. Palliative care can be provided alongside other treatments the patient is receiving, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Here are the answers to some of the common questions surrounding palliative care.
Palliative care meaning
Palliative care's definition is as follows, according to The World Health Organization: "the active total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. Control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social, and spiritual problems is paramount. The goal of palliative care is the achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families." In simpler terms, palliative care is a type of care that helps people who are living with a serious illness to feel better. This care is focused on relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness - whatever the diagnosis.
What does palliative mean?
Palliative means "tending to alleviate or reduce pain, distress, or suffering." In the context of palliative care, this means that the care is focused on providing relief from symptoms, rather than seeking to cure the underlying illness.
What is included in palliative care?
Palliative treatment includes physical, emotional, spiritual, and social support for both the patient and their family. The palliative care team may include a doctor, nurse, social worker, chaplain, and/or counselor. This team will work with the patient's other doctors to provide comprehensive care. They will also help the family to understand the patient's condition and make decisions about their care.
Palliative care services typically include:
- Pain and symptom management
- Emotional and spiritual support for the patient and their family
- Help with decision-making
- Support for caregivers
- Bereavement counseling
Who qualifies for palliative care?
Palliative care is appropriate for any adult or child who is living with a serious illness. This can include conditions like cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer's disease, and HIV/AIDS. Palliative care is not just for people who are nearing the end of life - it can be helpful at any stage of a serious illness. Palliative care can be provided in a hospital, nursing home, or at home. It can be provided alongside other treatments the patient is receiving, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If you are interested in palliative care for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor. They will be able to refer you to a palliative care team.
How long can you be in palliative care?
There is no set time limit for palliative care. Some people may only need palliative care for a short time, while others may need it for months or years. The length of time will depend on the individual's condition and how well they are responding to treatment. Palliative care is not curative - that is, it is not intended to cure the underlying illness. However, it can improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family.
What are the 5 stages of palliative care?
There are five stages of palliative care, according to the National Institutes of Health:
- Stage 1: Stable - The patient has been diagnosed with a serious illness and is beginning to experience symptoms. During this stage, doctors and the care team will generally help the family and patient identify the medical needs of the patient being treated. The care team can consist of multiple healthcare professionals, including social workers, volunteers, bereavement counselors, therapists, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
- Stage 2: Unstable - The patient's condition is worsening, and they are beginning to need more help with managing their symptoms. During this stage, the care team is typically dealing with symptoms or pain that was not anticipated during stage one -- quick changes to a care plan typically take place during this stage.
- Stage 3: Deterioration - In this stage, the patient's body is declining and symptoms are worsening. Due to the symptoms that develop at this stage, the care team is likely to make periodic adjustments and updates to the care plan in place. Families typically experience heightened distress at this stage of palliative care, so teams typically increase resources for afflicted family members.
- Stage 4: Terminal - In stage 4, the patient is typically within a few days of death. Care can still be provided in the patient's home, but families may choose to switch to a hospital setting so that more intensive care can be administered. The palliative care team switches focus to end-of-life medications and services when necessary and will focus on improving the quality of life for the patient as they near the end.
- Stage 5: Bereavement - Stage 5, the final stage of palliative care occurs after the patient has passed away. The care plan at this point switches to providing the family with emotional support and bereavement support. This can come in the form of providing mental health resources, connecting families to support groups, and connecting families and individuals to spiritual resources. Since palliative care can be given at any time or stage during an illness, there is not a general timeline for how long each of these stages can last. The timeline depends entirely on the patient's condition, diagnosis, and prognosis.
When should someone be offered palliative care?
Palliative care should be offered as soon as someone is diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening illness. Palliative care can be given alongside other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Palliative care can be beneficial for people of all ages - from infants to elders. Entering palliative care can help improve the quality of life, manage symptoms, and understand your choices for medical treatment.
Are there different types of palliative care?
Yes, there are different types of palliative care. The type of palliative care you receive will be based on your individual needs and preferences. Some types of palliative care include:
- Inpatient palliative care - This type of palliative care is provided in a hospital setting. You will be seen by a palliative care team that consists of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
- Outpatient palliative care - This type of palliative care is provided in clinics or doctor's offices. You will be seen by a palliative care team that consists of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
- Home-based palliative care - This type of palliative care is provided in your home by a palliative care team. Home-based palliative care can be beneficial if you are not able to leave your home or if you prefer to receive care in the comfort of your own home.
- Hospice palliative care - This type of palliative care is provided by a hospice team. Hospice palliative care is typically for people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness and have a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice palliative care can be provided in your home, in a hospice facility, or in a hospital.
Palliative care for cancer patients
Cancer patients can benefit from palliative care at any stage of their illness. Palliative care can help relieve symptoms, manage side effects of treatment, and improve the quality of life for cancer patients. Palliative care teams typically consist of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who specialize in palliative care for cancer patients.
Palliative care examples for patients with cancer include helping with depression or anxiety, helping with pain management drugs, or palliative therapy (which includes chemotherapy or radiation).
Knowing the difference between palliative care and hospice care is important when searching for care for a loved one who is in need of one of these services. For those with Medicare, this can make a massive difference and can mean paying either nothing for services (if you need hospice) or a lot for services (unless you have certain types of Medicare).