Living with a serious, potentially terminal illness like cancer, heart disease or dementia is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. In addition to the physical pain and discomfort caused by these types of medical issues, psychological distress and spiritual concerns can weigh heavily on a person who may be at the end of their life. In situations where medical treatment may or may not be able to help, palliative care can help a person feel more comfortable and may even help them come to terms with everything they’re going through. So what is palliative care?
Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care
Because hospice care and palliative care are often used in conjunction, many people believe the terms are interchangeable. In reality, they are distinct from one another in a number of important ways. While hospice care is employed only after treatment has stopped, palliative care can begin at the same time as diagnosis. Both forms of treatment are focused on making the person feel more comfortable during their illness but palliative care is intended to accomplish that goal while also continuing medical treatment. Many patients referred for palliative care are even able to make a full recovery.
Palliative Care Team
It takes a team effort to provide effective palliative care, and that team starts with your normal healthcare provider. When you’re diagnosed with a serious illness, your regular doctor will make recommendations about palliative care and may even refer you to a palliative care specialist. Once you decide to move forward, your palliative care team can include doctors, nurses, dieticians, social workers, psychologists, massage therapists and spiritual advisors.
While the medical portion of your team works to minimize physical pain and other uncomfortable symptoms, they’ll come up with a plan for treating your disease, the goal of which is complete recovery. In the meantime, other members of your team will focus on the psychological component of living with a serious illness. Counselors and psychologists can be invaluable in helping a person deal with feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. They can also schedule family counseling sessions to help families cope with the possibility that they may lose someone they love. For those who practice religion, a spiritual advisor can be very helpful in coming to terms with end of life issues and can give people dealing with illnesses a tremendous amount of comfort.
Palliative care may also include a practical advisor who can give recommendations about financial issues and help families plan for the financial burden of medical treatment or plan other end of life considerations like funeral costs, wills and more. For someone who could potentially be facing the end of their life, knowing that their family won’t have to struggle with money after they’re gone can lift a huge weight off their shoulders.
Facing a serious illness can seem like an insurmountable obstacle but you don’t have to do it alone; palliative care can give you the support you (and your family) need physically, mentally, and spiritually.