When people hear the term palliative care, many assume that it’s a treatment only for someone who is dying. But palliative care can also be used to bring physical and emotional comfort to anyone with a serious illness. Palliative care is used to treat the whole patient for illness as well as psychosocial, emotional, and other concerns. Palliative care can help any patient at any age, and at any stage of an illness.
Palliative care focuses on bettering your quality of life by improving the symptoms of your illness, such as pain, shortness of breath, and trouble sleeping. It’s used with a variety of ailments. This includes cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, and heart failure.
Palliative care is not meant to cure an illness, but it can be given at the same time as medical treatments. Palliative care is different from hospice care, which is care for those with life-limiting illnesses. It may be given at a hospital, a long-term care facility, or often in the home. You don’t have to give up your existing healthcare provider to have palliative care.
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 medicines such as morphine. Non-medicine 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 you and your family members alike. Emotional support, spiritual guidance, and help navigating the healthcare system may be provided. If you have anxiety or depression as a result of an illness, palliative care can help ease that, too.
Because people with serious illnesses often experience extreme tiredness, palliative care specialists can find ways to help restore energy and enable you to do 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 energy up.
If you’re 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. Your healthcare provider can refer you to a palliative care service organization.
Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care services. This depends on the situation. If you’re concerned about the cost of palliative care, a social worker from the palliative care organization can help to address any questions you have.