What Does Palliative Care Mean

Palliative care, a multidisciplinary approach, is basically a specialized form of medical care provided to people with a serious illness. The care is provided by a specially-trained team of specialists, doctors and nurses that work in collaboration with other health care providers offering extra support. It aims at improving life quality of patients and their families, providing symptomatic relief, and reducing stress associated with the illness.

What Does Palliative Care Mean Exactly?

According to WHO, it's an approach aiming to improve quality of life in people suffering from life-threatening diseases. Offer support and relieve suffering by early identification and early assessment and management of pain, psychosocially, physically and spiritually. Palliative care:

  • Reduces distressing symptoms like pain;
  • Affirms life and considers dying as a natural process;
  • Takes care of patients spiritually and psychosocially;
  • Provides support and offers every mean for patients to lead an active life till death;
  • Provides support to the patient's family in dealing with the illness and their suffering from the possibility of losing a family;
  • Makes use of team approach to address the needs of the patient and their families like counseling;
  • Improves quality of life, positively influencing the illness course;
  • Is implemented early in the illness and is integrated with other treatment options like radiotherapy and chemotherapy to prolong life and undergo investigations required to understand and manage the complications in a better way.

So you see, your doctor only focuses on your general health condition and treating your disease, but palliative care providers provide a whole-person care to you and your family.

Does Palliative Care Mean Death?

What does palliative care mean? Is it a death sentence? No, a big no. Even though the care aims at providing relief and reducing stress in people facing life-threatening diseases, it is not a death predictor or confirmer. People can begin, pause, resume and stop palliative care according to their needs and some may be cured to the extent of not requiring it again.

However, if you decide to bring an end to the treatment and your healthcare provider believes that you're in your final months, you may move to hospice, which forms an important component of palliative care.

Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice

As what has been said, palliative care looks after a patient in all aspect of his life, which alleviates symptoms of a disorder or disease, no matter if it can be cured or not. Hospice, on the other hand, is a specific part of palliative care and is provided people with likely 6 months or less to live. In short, hospice care is a vital section of palliative care, but palliative care is a much larger concept than hospice.

Who Should Receive Palliative Care?

Initially aimed for people with terminal illness, the care has now become a specialty covering a broad range of serious diseases. Bearing in mind the statement of WHO, "All people have a right to receive high-quality care during serious illness and to a dignified death, free of overwhelming pain and in line with their spiritual and religious beliefs."

People are eligible, if treated for heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, AIDS, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), etc. With symptomatic relief as its primary goal, the treatment allows you to undergo proper and complete treatment and tolerate their side effects. It addresses symptoms like constipation, pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, bowel or bladder problems, sleeping problem, weight loss, appetite loss, wasting, depression, mental confusion, shortness of breath, coughing, etc.

When Should Palliative Care Begin?

Now that you know "What does palliative care mean?" Let's discuss when exactly should the care be started. The most important thing to remember is the sooner the better. It can begin at any stage of illness, even as soon as it is diagnosed. You don't have to wait for the disease to progress to an advanced stage. At the beginning of palliative care, fatigue, anxiety and depression may be felt and palliative care providers can counsel the patient and their families during the treatment to reduce the stress and suffering.

Where Is Palliative Care Given?

Palliative care can be provided at a number of places. Although this service is mostly offered in a hospital setting, it can also be offered at home, hospices, long-term care facilities and outpatient clinics.

The palliative care providing team includes doctors, nurses, social workers, specialists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, pharmacists, dieticians, nutritionists, etc.

While most of the hospitals have their own team of palliative care providers, you can ask your doctor for referral to an appropriate team of specialists for the matter.

Others' Stories About Having Palliative Care

What does palliative care mean? Let's know it better from the 2 patients' stories of accepting this service: 

"One day right after I got my stage IV diagnosis, my doctor recommended me to get palliative care so I could survive longer and live a more comfortable life. Although he did emphasize that it is not hospice, I still freaked out and refused at first. But then I got to know palliative care and accepted it. And now I am still alive with all the comfort I can get. Still ill but contented."

"I was diagnosed with lung cancer 4 years ago. When my condition got worse, I felt there is no hope and I was burden to my anguish parents. So when my doctor recommended palliative care, I accepted quietly thinking about my death and freeing my parents. But one doctor talked with me every day for as long as I wanted and whatever topic I want to talk. Sometimes we just sat silently. Then I had a friend, like a straw to my drowning heart and gradually I stopped pushing my parents and all others away. Now I am still struggling but I have a hope to hold on to."

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