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What is Palliative Care, and Who can Benefit?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year, an estimated 56.8 million people are in need of palliative care. Often, the terms palliative and hospice care are used interchangeably. While the two are similar, with their main objective being pain and symptom relief for the patient, there are important differences. Let’s explore palliative care, how it’s different from hospice care, and who can benefit from it.
What is Palliative Care?
According to WHO, palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families dealing with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, and many others. It prevents and relieves suffering by taking care of issues beyond physical symptoms and offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death.
According to the National Institute on Aging, often when receiving this kind of care, the patient is assigned an interdisciplinary team that works with the patient, family, and the patient’s other doctors to provide medical, social, emotional, and practical support. The team consists of specialist doctors and nurses, social workers, nutritionists, and chaplains. Each patient’s team may vary based on their needs and level of care.
Palliative vs. Hospice Care
Both hospice and palliative care help improve comfort and reduce pain for patients. The main difference between the two is that hospice care is provided with the sole intention of providing comfort to the patient during their last six months of life because they’re no longer pursuing curative care – either because curative options are not available or because the side effects from treatment outweigh the benefits. Palliative care, on the other hand, can be provided during any stage of the disease, with or without curative treatment.
Who Can Benefit?
Palliative care is beneficial for anyone living with a serious illness. It can help patients understand their treatment options while improving comfort and quality of life.
It also benefits family members and caregivers of patients. Dealing with a serious, life-threatening illness is anxiety-provoking and stressful for family members as well. When a patient receives palliative care, families and caregivers can take comfort in knowing their loved one’s symptoms are being managed, and their loved one is cared for.
When is it Time?
As mentioned above, patients can receive palliative care during any stage of illness. Ideally, it’s provided at diagnosis and throughout the illness, accompanied by life-prolonging or curative treatment. Unlike hospice care, patients don’t have to wait until their illness is in its final stages to receive it. The earlier you start, the better since symptoms like pain, anxiety, and depression can begin when treatment begins.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, talk to your doctor about a referral to palliative care – it’s never too early to ask how to improve your or your loved one’s quality of life during this difficult time.