Palliative care helps people at any stage of illness improve their quality of life.
Getting diagnosed with a serious illness affects more than a person’s physical health. It can touch multiple areas of their life, including their emotional well-being, finances, and social and spiritual life. A patient’s diagnosis can also significantly impact their family’s lives as well.
Receiving an unexpected diagnosis is hard enough—without having to worry about all the other ways it can impact your life. That’s why, as part of a normal treatment regimen, patients have access to palliative care, and are encouraged to utilize it.
“Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness, the goal of which is to improve quality of life for patients and their families,” says Nathan E. Goldstein, MD, a palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai in New York City. “The goal of palliative care is to improve patients’ symptoms so they can get the underlying treatment they need aimed at curing or prolonging their life.”
Palliative care may include help with:
Physical symptoms. Palliative care can help with any physical symptom that may be affecting a patient’s quality of life, such as feeling pain or having trouble sleeping or eating. These treatments may include medications, nutritional guidance, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or integrative therapies.
Emotional, social, and coping problems. Patients and their families may face a lot of stress as they cope with an illness, which can lead to other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. Palliative care treatments to help patients cope with emotional issues may include therapy, support groups, or family meetings.
Practical issues. Palliative care can also help with practical money- or job-related problems that an illness may bring up. Palliative care can help with financial counseling, housing, or transportation.
Spiritual guidance. When faced with an illness, a patient may look for meaning in what’s happening to them and/or question their faith. Palliative care can address these issues and help patients explore their feelings and find acceptance.
Who Can Get Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a serious illness, such as heart failure, cancer, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Palliative care may not be appropriate for patients with chronic conditions that aren’t serious, says Dr. Goldstein. “For example, patients with chronic back pain, while they’re certainly suffering with pain, may not be appropriate for palliative care.”
There’s a common misconception that patients who receive palliative care are at the end of their lives. “That’s absolutely not true,” says Dr. Goldstein. “Palliative care is for any age, at any stage—and people who get palliative care will live years and years, and many people who get palliative care will actually be cured.”
Nathan E. Goldstein, MD, is a professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
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Palliative care is specialized medical
care for people with serious illness.
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The goal of which is to improve
the quality of life for patients and
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I think patients often have
concerns about palliative care.
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The first one is, they think it means that
they're at the end of their lives, and
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that is absolutely not true.
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Palliative care is for
people at any age or any stage.
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And people who get palliative
care will live years and
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years, and many people who get
palliative care will actually be cured.
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So the goal of palliative care is to
improve patient's symptoms, so they can
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get the underlying treatment they need
aimed at curing or prolonging their life.
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The criteria for getting palliative
care is having a chronic illness for
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which you need a little more help.
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This includes patients with cancer,
with heart disease, with liver disease,
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kidney disease, and
a wide range of other illnesses.
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Palliative probably isn't appropriate for
patients with chronic, but
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not serious illness.
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So for example,
patients with chronic back pain, while
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they're certainly suffering with pain, may
not be appropriate for palliative care.
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Palliative care treats
a wide range of symptoms.
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So the main thing that people think about
palliative care for is physical symptoms,
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but we also treat a wide range
of psychological symptoms.
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We work a lot with patients who
have anxiety or depression or
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just general problems coping with their
serious illness, which is pretty normal.
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So palliative care teams in general
have four core individuals,
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a physician, a nurse practitioner or
a nurse, a social worker, and a chaplain.
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In addition, palliative care
teams can have a wide range of
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services that can include things
like massage therapy, child life,
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music therapy, arts therapy, and
a whole wide range of volunteers.
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Caregiving for someone with a serious
illness can be quite difficult.
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One of the things we do for caregivers
is make sure they also understand
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what's happening with a patient's illness.
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Make sure they understand the patient's
medicines and how they should be given.
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So we work with caregivers to help
relieve some of the caregiver burden, and
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the problems associated
with being a caregiver for
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someone with a serious illness.
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We like to say that we do three things:
we control pain and other symptoms.
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We make sure that patients understand
what's going on with their medical illness
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and can make the best decisions, that is
translate medicalese back into English.
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And then we make sure that patients have
the package of services that they need
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in the right setting.
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So whether that's in a hospital or
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whether that's going home or
to a rehab facility, we make sure
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that patients have a package of services
that they need to get them to their goals.
What Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care? National Institute on Aging. (Accessed on November 27, 2018 at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-palliative-care-and-hospice-care)
Primary palliative care. UpToDate. (Accessed on November 27, 2018 at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-palliative-care-and-hospice-care)