Family Health, Your Health Lindsay Guinaugh | 8 years ago

Improving Quality of Life with Palliative Care

Pain and suffering isn't the only option for those facing a serious illness. Palliative care can help a patient feel better – at any age – and improve quality of life for everyone involved in the treatment process.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for those with serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, respiratory illness and kidney failure. Often confused with hospice, palliative care is a broader category. So while it does include end-of-life care, palliative care also helps patients better understand their illness and available treatment options while their doctors continue to pursue a cure. Palliative care is managed by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work together on a treatment plan with a patient's primary doctor. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, whether it is terminal or not. Pain management is a major part of palliative care, however patients can seek help with other symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and loss of appetite. “Palliative care is extra support for you, your family and your doctor to help you relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life,” said said Niki Koesel, MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Director of Palliative Care at Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Cancer Institute.

“The overall goal is to help you live as well as possible, for as long as possible,” said Koesel.

When To Seek Palliative Care? “The sooner you receive palliative care after your diagnosis, the sooner you can begin to manage your symptoms,” said Koesel. “By seeking palliative care, that doesn’t mean you’re giving up hope for a recovery. Many patients recover and move out of palliative care completely, while some patients seek continued care as the need arises.” Often a primary care doctor or physician treating a serious illness will make a referral for a patient to receive palliative care. What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice? Hospice is a type of palliative care. A hospice care program is typically administered in the home. Hospice often relies upon the family caregiver, as well as a visiting hospice nurse. Hospice patients are usually considered terminal and most programs focus on comfort rather than aggressive disease treatment. Palliative care is typically given at the facility where a patient received his or her initial treatment – such as a hospital. A complete medical team is involved in the care throughout the process. Who Can Benefit from Palliative Care? Anyone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness may benefit from palliative care. “Pain and suffering doesn’t have to be part of a serious illness,” said Koesel. “Thanks to palliative care and advances in medicine, most physical pain can be successfully managed and a patient’s emotional and spiritual needs can be met as well.” Studies have shown that palliative care patients can live longer and have lower rates of depression than those who did not seek the additional care. Patients with hospital-based palliative care visits have also been shown to spend less time in intensive care units and were less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital after they went home. Will Insurance Cover Palliative Care? Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans cover all or part of palliative care treatment, just as they would other hospital and medical services.