By, Hyunjin Noh, PhD, MSW
Watching a loved one struggling with difficult pain can be a traumatic experience for caregivers and can have a negative impact on their mental health. Many caregivers are unaware about palliative care and how it can help them and their loved one. However, palliative care may be a health care option that benefits your loved one, you, and your family.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is a special type of care for patients with chronic or serious illnesses, such as dementia, cancer, and kidney disease. The goal of these services are not to cure illness. Instead, it focuses on improving quality of life by preventing and managing pain and suffering. Palliative care supports the whole person, not just the illness. For instance, it helps with:
How can palliative care help me and my loved one?
Caregivers often feel stressed about common symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss and confusion. However, palliative care eases other symptoms of dementia that we don’t talk about as much, like:
What is end-of-life care?
Many families find it uncomfortable to discuss planning for their loved one’s passing and end up putting it off. Palliative care services may include planning, which can make their loved one’s transition easier when it comes. For instance, social workers can assist with important issues, like preparing documents for setting up a living will and health care proxy. They may also help families with the difficult conversation about end-of-life so caregivers can learn what their loved one’s wishes are and carry out those wishes. Also important, chaplains can provide spiritual support for the patient and caregivers through pastoral care.
How does palliative care fit in with my loved one’s current care?
Palliative care is often provided in addition to services designed to cure illness, like surgery or chemotherapy. Many families are relieved that this type of care can be provided to their loved one at home. However patients can receive palliative care in other settings, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Patients can also keep their primary care provider and specialists while receiving palliative care. In fact, the patient’s current doctors typically work with the palliative care team to manage patient care.
Health insurance often covers the cost of palliative treatments and medication, though patients may have a co-pay. This includes Medicare and Medicaid. Most private health insurances also include palliative care services with different levels of coverage depending on each plan. How long a patient can receive care depends on their care needs and their insurance coverage. Most patients receive palliative care occasionally and only as they need it. However, many patients receiving palliative care will increase the services they use as their condition worsens.
Is palliative care the same as hospice care?
No. Hospice care is offered to patients who are expected to live 6 months or less if their illness runs its normal course. Usually, doctors will refer a patient to hospice when they believe that ongoing, curative treatment is no longer helping the patient and they have reached a terminal stage. To enroll in hospice, the patient must have a terminal diagnosis from their regular doctor and the medical director of the hospice agency. Hospice care may include 24-hour on-call service, home visits, medical equipment, medications, inpatient care, respite care, spiritual care, bereavement and counseling services.
Unlike hospice, patients can receive palliative care at any stage in their disease and while they still receive curative treatment. So, receiving palliative care does not mean that the patient is terminally ill or dying.
There are some ways that palliative care and hospice care are similar, though. Both types of care:
What questions should we ask our doctor about palliative care?
If you are a caregiver and feel that your loved one may benefit from palliative care services, talk to their doctor. Here are some questions you may ask them:
Want to learn more?
You can find more information about palliative care and hospice care at:
4/17/2022 09:50:23 am
Thank you for sharing your expertise, Dr. Noh! Many caregivers that I have talked with avoid the topic of palliative and hospice care because they are uncomfortable thinking about their loved one dying. However, when I explain what services are provided and how they would benefit, several have come back to me to say that they decided to try palliative or hospice care and it changed their lives for the better.
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