What is Palliative Care?

palliative careMost people will likely tie palliative care to an end-of-life hospice setting but this is often not the case. A relatively new medical specialty, palliative care doesn’t just help the dying, rather it’s focused on providing comfort and improving the life of people of all ages suffering from serious, chronic and life-threatening illness.

Diseases that call for palliative care include cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart failure, renal failure, AIDS, COPD, among others. Some patients move out of palliative care once they recover while others with chronic conditions may move in and out of comfort care as needed.

There are currently more than 1,400 hospital palliative care programs in the U.S. and about 80% of large U.S. hospitals and 55% of small hospitals have palliative care programs, according to Diane Meier, MD, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

How does palliative care work?

A palliative care team is usually comprised of several health care professionals, including a physician, nurse and social worker. Oftentimes a chaplain, psychologist, physical therapist and/or others can called in based on the patient’s needs. The goals of each patient may vary as well. One patient may wish to live as long as possible, no matter the quality of life, while another may choose to focus on comfort.

Taking a holistic approach, palliative care attempts to meet the challenges brought on by illness in every aspect of a patient’s life and can even be extended to family members and caregivers in the form of education about the illness and respite care.

 
By emphasizing the whole person, even their personal life, palliative care improves a patient’s quality of life. This is backed up by research, as studies have shown that palliative care not helps reduce stress and depression in patients, it can actually prolong their lives.

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