5 Fast Facts: Palliative Care
If you or a loved one is facing a difficult diagnosis, you may have been introduced to the idea of palliative care. Having questions about what this or any other end-of-life treatment entails is par for the course. It’s why, alongside our work caring for the elders on campus, we try to provide information and educational resources for families about how this process works. So, in the interest of offering a crash course on this particular topic, here are five fast facts about palliative care.
5 Fast Facts: Palliative Care
1. Palliative Care is about Symptom Management
The first thing to know is that palliative care can be a remarkably long, fulfilling, and rich journey. We’re typically not talking about a one-month-to-live scenario here. The goal of a palliative care plan is to help someone continue living the life they love with minimal adjustments to the autonomy and independence they’re used to. Palliative care is essentially the intersection between accepting an unfavorable diagnosis and consciously integrating its management into our lifestyles.
2. It Follows a Terminal Diagnosis
When should someone be offered palliative care? Generally, it should be offered after someone receives a diagnosis that is determined to be fatal but isn’t currently life threatening. At this point, palliative care will function to support a comfortable lifestyle living with the disease without uprooting one’s entire world.
3. Palliative Care Can Be Helpful For the Whole Family
The emotional support and dedicated focus afforded to the elder are some benefits of palliative care to be sure. However, it also provides an early opportunity for both the family to come to terms with their loved one’s diagnosis prior to hospice and begin preparing for where it will lead, however far away the end of that journey may be. Palliative treatment gives families the opportunity to come alongside their loved one and continue enjoying and celebrating their life to the fullest, despite the ultimately terminal diagnosis.
4. There’s a Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care
Hospice and palliative care are related, but they actually point to separate points along the treatment journey of a terminal illness. So, what is the difference between hospice and palliative care? It comes down to timing, severity, and a quality of life decision.
What is Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care?
The first thing to understand is that it isn’t actually “palliative care vs hospice care.” Each form of care serves its unique purpose in a comprehensive end-of-life treatment plan. So, what’s the difference between them?
We know that palliative care aims to maintain relative independence and comfort. Similarly, hospice care focuses on comfort; it just removes the emphasis on independence. At this point, quality of life will have become more of an uphill battle for the senior. Vitals may have begun changing, perhaps dementia or other cognitive compromise has set in — in short, the approach of simply managing the illness is no longer possible. When admitted into hospice, it may be recommended that a senior’s life-sustaining medications be discontinued and comfort medications increased. For those who desire it, the frequency of visits from social workers, chaplains, and the like may increase along with more nursing and personal care support.
5. There are 5 Stages of Palliative Care
It can be helpful to think in terms of the different stages of end of life treatment. The 5 stages of palliative care can be broken down in slightly different ways, but it basically falls into these categories (Elder):
- Form a palliative care plan
- Work with someone (therapist, pastor, care staff) to emotionally prepare for what lies ahead
- Begin initial treatment that lets you keep doing your normal activities with minor care adjustments (visits from a nurse, home safety equipment, etc.)
- Transition into late stage treatment in a home, hospice, or with a live-in medical professional
- Loved ones benefit from bereavement counseling