Palliative Care May Not Be What You Think

Young woman nurse explaining information to man patient in wheelchair Hearing the words “palliative care,” a patient and their family may assume that their doctor is talking about end-of-life services. This misunderstanding has given a somber stigma to necessary care that can not only reduce symptoms of serious illness like cancer but can also improve a patient’s quality of life. Palliative care is a term that describes a variety of treatments that are designed to relieve symptoms and also the emotional distress that may coincide with serious illness. It is not a type of service intended for patients who have no hope for recovery from their condition. Hardly, and yet confusion about the term can lead some patients to opt-out of the very services that can help them navigate their current health status with more comfort and ease.

Palliative Care is Not Hospice: Here are Some Differences

The primary difference between palliative care and hospice is the point at which treatments are offered. Patients may receive palliative care service at the same time they are undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy. Hospice services generally begin when a patient is no longer receiving benefit from medical therapies. The focus of palliative care is to address the symptoms of serious illness, including the stress that the patient may endure, and it may continue for an undefined period of time. Hospice is more definitive and often begins when a patient’s life expectancy is less than one year.

What Can Palliative Care Do for a Patient?

We mustn’t limit palliative care to pain management. Services are much more comprehensive than that. Some therapies may address symptoms of a disease, while others may help reduce the risk of side effects from treatment. For example, some patients undergoing cancer treatment develop peripheral neuropathy. Doctors can assess who may have a higher risk of this side effect and preemptively prescribe medication to protect the nerves. This is one example of many. Additional issues that palliative care may help manage include:

  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Malnutrition
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Intimacy issues
  • Memory and cognition

Palliative care is provided by specially trained doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, volunteers, and other specialists. A multidisciplinary team acts as an extra layer of support for the patient and may provide care in a clinical setting or at home as needed.

Summit Healthcare can be reached at (928) 537-4375 for more information.  We’re happy to serve the Show Lo area.

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