If your loved one is facing a serious illness and their doctors have revealed a low prognosis for their recovery, palliative care may be considered. Palliative care is a patient-focused discipline that focuses on the patient’s emotional, social, and physical comfort rather than providing curative treatment for their condition.
Dr. Alexander Everest, an experienced healthcare executive, shares how family members can help their loved ones transition to palliative care.
Where Palliative Care Can Be Given
Palliative care can be given at home in the presence of family. Typically, home health aides and doctors help to administer palliative care in the home. Palliative care can also be given in a hospital, hospice, or assisted living center.
Reasons Why Palliative Care is Chosen
Palliative care may be chosen because the patient is experiencing pain or distress due to medical treatments or as a result of their illness itself. Many patients who choose palliative care have not given up on their prospects of recovering from their illness, but others prefer to use it as part of hospice care.
The Differences Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care
While palliative care and hospice care have a great deal in common and often overlap, there are a few key differences between these methods that you and your ill loved one should understand.
Hospice care is specifically targeted to patients reaching the end of their lives, while palliative care can be used at any time. In the case of hospice care, patients and their families have typically chosen to forgo any further medical treatment for a patient’s condition. They have chosen to pursue comfort care instead.
Palliative care does not necessarily mean giving up on the patient’s prospects for recovery. It can be used at the same time as curative treatment. It is concerned primarily with improving the patient’s quality of life during treatment or after medical treatment has been discontinued.
Be Open About Their Condition
Palliative care may be considered if a patient has little hope of responding to curative treatment. It may also be considered if a “break” from treatment is indicated, especially where cancer care is concerned. Many cancer treatments, in particular, cause extreme discomfort for the patient and cause them to lose their strength. In some cases, taking a break and going temporarily to palliative care can help patients respond better to curative treatment in the future.
No matter why palliative care is being considered, families need to be open with their loved ones about their diagnosis. Especially where dementia or advancing age may be a factor, the patient may not always understand the reasoning behind moving to palliative care.
Have a frank discussion with your loved one and their doctors to ascertain whether your loved one wants to pursue palliative care or would rather continue with curative care. If your loved one is incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions, it may be emotionally difficult to choose palliative care. Speaking with doctors, faith leaders, or hospital chaplains can be helpful in this case.
Another hurdle that families looking into palliative care may experience is the patient’s perception that palliative care is the same as hospice care and involves “giving up” on the patient’s chance for recovery. You should reassure your loved one that palliative care and hospice care are not the same things, though they share some aspects in common with one another.
You should reassure your loved ones that they can discontinue palliative care and go back to curative care at any time. They may also wish to keep up with treatments while experiencing palliative care on the side, which is fine.
Setting Up the Home for Palliative Care
The patient should have their room but should not be separated from family activities. Friendly and loving interactions with all members of the family, including children, should be pursued. At-home medical equipment should be purchased or borrowed, including hospital beds, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, and blood pressure monitors. The in-home caregiver will have a list of everything that the home needs to pursue palliative care.
In-home assistance is needed for most patients receiving palliative care. It is not recommended that family members try to administer this care on their own without help. A professional touch is needed. In addition, caregiving on a full-time basis is extremely stressful for the family.
Preparing Your Loved One for Palliative Care
When you have gone over all of these issues with your loved one, you can be reassured that you have fully explained palliative care and how it affects your loved one’s medical treatment and prospects.
Dr. Alexander Everest wants families to understand that palliative care and hospice care are not one and the same and that palliative care can begin during medical treatment. Reducing painful treatments and those that cause harmful side effects can have the effect of lifting your loved one’s spirits and making them more comfortable.