Magazine article Work & Family Life

Why Do I Need to Know about Palliative Care?

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Why Do I Need to Know about Palliative Care?

Article excerpt

Does your older relative suffer from pain or symptoms due to any illness, including arthritis? Does she experience physical or emotional pain that's not under control? Does he need help understanding his situation and coordinating proper care?

Many people define palliative care as an end-of-life measure that is part of hospice care. But it's not. It is medical care to relieve pain and suffering and improve a person's quality of life during an illness. And while it is often a major component of hospice care, it's not limited to that. People can receive palliative care at any age or stage of an illness.

Why this is important

Many patients and even some doctors are unaware of the extent to which palliative care can be helpful to a patient. As a result, they may not ask for it when it's needed.

A Dartmouth College study that included four counseling sessions with a nurse plus contact by phone found that a program of fairly simple palliative care for cancer patients helped to improve their mood and quality of life.

Another study at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that patients with metastatic lung cancer who received palliative care lived two-and-a-half months longer than those who received standard care. That may not seem like much, but for someone with advanced lung cancer, it's a big difference.

The need-to-know basics

A recent Harvard Health Letter provided the following information about palliative care:

* The main priorities of any palliative care program are to identify and manage pain. Pain can be extremely debilitating and, if left untreated, can suppress the imand cause mune system depression.

* Palliative care can also help relieve physical discomfort such as shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, insomnia and constipation. Cancer patients often need help to control nausea, a common side effect of chemotherapy.

* Psychological and social services are part of palliative care, because a major illness is an emotional experience that can bring on depression, anxiety and other problems that patients and their families need to deal with. Some doctors say that, because palliative care specialists are separate from medical personnel, it may be easier for patients to open up to them and unburden themselves.

* Palliative care specialists can help patients and their families set realistic goals and make treatment choices. They may also advise on practical problems such as dealing with bureaucratic and financial difficulties that may arise.

* New cancer drugs are changing the nature of chemotherapy. …

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