Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of the serious illness, whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.
Palliative care treats people suffering from serious and chronic illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease such as congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and many more.
Palliative care focuses on symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and depression. It also helps you gain strength to carry on with daily life. It improves your ability to tolerate medical treatments. Finally, it helps you have more control over your care by improving communication so that you can better understand your choices for treatment.
Palliative care is a team approach to care. The core team includes doctor, nurse and social work palliative care specialists. Rehabilitation specialists, massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, chaplains and others may also be part of the team.
The team spends as much time as necessary with you and your family. They become a partner with you, your family and your other doctors. They support you and your family every step of the way, not only by controlling your symptoms, but also by helping you to understand your treatment options and goals. Working together with your primary doctor, the palliative care team provides:
1. Close communication
2. Expert management of pain and other symptoms
3. Help navigating the healthcare system
4. Guidance with difficult and complex treatment choices
5. Emotional and spiritual support for you and your family.