Palliative care is a newer and specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from symptoms, pain, and stress of the illness. The main goal is to improve the quality of life for the patient and his or her family.
Unlike hospice, which is for patients in the last stages of an illness, palliative care is provided for any age patient at any stage of the illness and can be provided along with curative treatment. In the United States palliative care services can be offered to any patient without restriction to disease or prognosis, while hospice care requires two physicians to certify that a patient has less than six months to live if the disease follows its usual course.
The concept of palliative care is not new, but traditionally doctors have concentrated on curing patients rather than treatment for the alleviation of symptoms. In the late 1980’s a handful of institutions because to focus on the patient’s quality of life, and since then the practice of palliative care has increased greatly. Now there are currently more than 1,400 hospitals with palliative care programs in the United States. There are also many palliative Home Care programs as well.
Palliative care uses a team of specialists who work together to provide support and care. A palliative care teams can include doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, massage therapists, pharmacists, and nutritionists. The palliative care team spends as much time as necessary with the patient and family, supporting every step of the way. Several services palliative care provides include time for close communication, expert management of pain, help navigating the healthcare system, guidance with difficult treatment choices, and emotional and spiritual support.
Some of the common serious and chronic illnesses that are treated by palliative care include cancer, cardiac disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Palliative care relieves the symptoms of the diseases such as shortness of breath, pain, constipation, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. It helps a patient gain the strength to carry on with daily life, improves ability to tolerate medical treatments, and can alleviate the side effects of curative treatment.