Palliative Care

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is care that makes patients as comfortable as possible and that prevents and relieves suffering. And, although it is part of end-of-life care, it can be applied to care for people in any stage of disease. Palliative care allows for medical therapies, but focuses on:

  • Improving quality of life
  • Reaching the best possible function (for example, daily activities, physical activity, and self-care)
  • Helping with decision-making about end-of-life care
  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families

Palliative care is not meant to cure an illness, but it can be given at the same time as medical treatments. It may be given at a hospital, a long-term care facility, or even in your own home. You don’t have to give up your existing healthcare provider to have palliative care.

The palliative care process

A team of specialists, including healthcare providers, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, and spiritual professionals, often work together to provide palliative care. This teamwork allows a number of treatment methods to be used to relieve symptoms.

One of the most common palliative care treatments is pain management. This may be done with pain-relieving medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen or stronger drugs like morphine. Nondrug therapies, sometimes called complementary therapies, may also be part of the pain management plan. These may include massage therapy, relaxation methods, music therapy, acupuncture, and aromatherapy.

Palliative care may also involve nonmedical support for patient and family members alike. Emotional support, spiritual guidance, and help navigating the healthcare system may be provided. If a patient has anxiety or depression as a result of his or her illness, palliative care can help ease that, too.

People with serious illnesses often experience extreme tiredness, and palliative care specialists can find ways to help restore energy and enable them to perform day-to-day tasks. For example, you might be advised to do a task, like bathing, at a time of the day when you’re at your best. Dietary changes and a regular rest schedule might also be suggested to keep your energy up.

What are palliative care services?

The services most palliative care providers can offer are extensive. The following are some of the services offered:

  • Psychosocial support and intervention to help the patient and family members
  • Equipment for delivery of medicines, nutrition, oxygen, and suction
  • Equipment including special beds, toilets, chairs, wheelchairs, and bath requirements
  • Skilled nursing care, healthcare providers, pharmacists, and other specialists
  • Medicine and nutrition support
  • Spiritual, religious, and cultural needs and requests
  • Special services for siblings or children (for example, support groups)
  • Respite care allowing the family to rest
  • Bereavement care

How to get palliative care

If you are interested in palliative care for your illness, the first step is to speak with the healthcare provider who is treating you. Be sure to explain what is most important to improving your quality of life — this may be aggressive pain management, the ability to be treated at home, or something else entirely.

Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care services.