Palliative Care Guidelines: What Does It Look Like and What Are Its Benefits?
Severe and progressive illnesses often cause pain and similar symptoms that may affect a person’s abilities to perform daily tasks. Such symptoms may significantly decrease both patients’ and families’ quality of life, which is why they often seek help in the form of palliative care.
The purpose of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. It may include curative and other treatments depending on the patient’s condition, and it’s conducted by doctors, nurses, and the staff trained to provide care. They will work together to make sure you and your loved one are receiving the highest level of care and support.
Palio care serves as a complementary treatment that provides patients with an extra layer of encouragement. It’s appropriate for anyone diagnosed with a serious and life-threatening condition, especially for those that are not yet ready to give up curative treatments.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a type of specialized medical care aimed at people who’re living with a severe illness. It is focused on providing relief from the symptoms such as pain and stress, and its primary purpose is improving the quality of life for both the patient and his/her family.
Efficient palliative care must be performed by a specialized team of doctors, nurses, and other adequately trained staff that make sure the person spends his/her last days in the best possible way. That said, its goal is to fulfill a patient’s needs and not to focus on their prognosis.
Who Can Benefit from Palliative Care?
Anyone who has a progressive life-threatening illness can benefit from palliative care. It is not aimed only at seniors, but at all the people, regardless of their age. That said, it can help all the patients that are living with illnesses such as:
- Blood and bone marrow disorders that require stem cell transplant
- Cystic fibrosis
- Heart disease
- Kidney failure
- Liver diseases
- Parkinson’s disease
All these disorders bring more or less similar symptoms that may prevent the patient from performing daily tasks. Such symptoms often include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Sadness and depression
- Trouble sleeping.
How Does Palliative Treatment Work?
Palliative treatment is based upon a holistic approach, and it’s performed by a multidisciplinary team that works with a patient and his/her family. Team members are usually medical specialists such as doctors and nurses, but social workers, nutritionists, and chaplains can also form part of the group. That way, patients can get medical, social, emotional, and spiritual support.
The greatest benefit of palliative care is the fact that a patient doesn’t need to give up the treatment that might cure their underlying condition. If, after some time, your doctor or palliative team sees that the therapy gives no results, they may suggest two possibilities – switching to hospice care or continuing with symptom management through palliative care.
Palliative Care vs. Hospice
Although both kinds of care are aimed at more or less similar situations, some critical factors will help you distinguish between them.
Palliative care is convenient for patients with serious illnesses, and it helps them reduce the symptoms that cause a significant amount of stress and pain. It helps people overcome their emotional, social, practical, and spiritual crisis, making sure their quality of life is improved.
The best thing about palliative care is that it can be given at the same time as treatments that focus on curing the patient’s underlying disease. It means that it can be provided when the illness is diagnosed, through treatment, during follow-up, and at the end of life.
The philosophy of hospice is a bit different. People choose this kind of care at the end of their lives, or when they are likely to die within six months. Hospice care can be provided in any setting that patients find convenient – home, nursing home, assisted living facility, or inpatient hospital.
The reason why hospice differs from palliative care is the fact that hospice doesn’t aim at curing a particular disease but at improving the quality of their last days. Patients that begin hospice are those whose treatments no longer work and who can only improve the aspects of their social, emotional, and spiritual life.
The costs of hospice care are often fully covered by Medicare, Medi-Cal, or private insurance. The costs of palliative care, on the other hand, may be partially covered – it will depend on the plan you have, and it’s critical to check all these details with your insurance provider.
What are the Benefits of Palliative Care?
The most prominent advantages of palliative care lie in symptom management, which significantly helps patients cope with the most challenging time in their lives. The effects of a particular disease may differ from person to person, but this kind of care will help them generally improve the following issues:
- Physical: Physical problems such as pain, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, ad insomnia can be successfully addressed with palliative care.
- Emotional: Patients often face problems regarding their emotional side – depression, anxiety, and fear are just some of the issues palliative therapy can solve.
- Social: If you find it difficult to talk to your family or caregiver about your condition, you may want to share your thoughts and feelings with a social worker or support groups that may help you plan a family meeting, find medical information, and even talk to your family or caregiver and give them some valuable piece of advice.
- Spiritual: Depending on a patient’s beliefs and whether they’re religious or not, they might want to talk to a chaplain or any spiritual leader that would provide spiritual support and answer any questions that might be brought up.
- Mental: Palliative care can help relieve psychological issues that might arise as a result of the underlying disease. They may suggest specific exercises, counseling, meditation, yoga, arts and crafts, and even volunteering in particular organizations. Such activities may help reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and sleeping problems.
- Financial: Both families and patients are concerned about the cost of treatments and whether they’ll be able to pay for them. Your palliative care doctor and the rest of the team can find you a counselor that will recommend certain billing insurances, find programs that offer low-cost coverages, and help you apply for disability payments.
How to Prepare for Palliative Care?
If you decide to start your palliative care program, you will be wondering how to prepare for it and what you can expect once you start with your treatments. Have a look at some crucial information that may help you get ready for your first consultation:
- Make a list of all the symptoms that you’re experiencing and make sure you mention all the factors that make your symptoms better or worse and whether they affect your abilities to perform your daily activities.
- Bring all the medications and supplements that you use.
- Feel free to bring a family member or a friend with you to the consultation.
- Bring any advance directives that you’ve completed.
The first meeting with your palliative doctor may occur while you’re in the hospital or an outpatient clinic. According to some studies, patients that start with palliative treatments at the early stage of their severe condition are more likely to improve the quality of their lives, reduce the signs of depression and anxiety, increase patient and family satisfaction with care, and even extend survival in some cases.
Palliative care is worth considering at any stage of the illness, and you can count on it whenever you find it convenient. You’re advised to start palliative care if you have questions regarding the following concerns:
- What to expect from your current care plan and how to make it in the way it meets your needs the most.
- What programs and support groups are available to support you through your illness.
- Pros and cons of your current treatment
- Making important decisions according to your personal values and goals you want to accomplish.
What to Expect During the Consultation?
During the consultation, your palliative team will focus on your symptoms, current treatments, and how is your illness affecting your life and the life of your family. The experienced team of doctors and other experts in the field will create a unique treatment plan in line with your needs and therapies you’re currently receiving, making sure it addresses your symptoms in the best possible way.
What to Expect After the Consultation?
After you’ve obtained all the necessary information from your palliative team, you may expect to start with your treatments. So, what is included in palliative care?
- Symptom management: Your palliative treatment plan includes steps to address your symptoms and enhance your comfort and well-being. Your care team will be there to answer any of your questions, such as whether the plan affects the medical treatments you’re receiving at the moment.
- Support and advice: You can expect to receive the highest level of support and guidance from your designated team, which will help you and your family go through the difficult times. You’ll be able to talk to your social workers, chaplains, counselors, or anyone else who’ll answer critical questions.
- Care techniques: These often include breathing techniques, healing touch, visualization, or listening to music.
- Referrals: Your team may refer you to other doctors – specialists in psychiatry, pain medicine, or integrative medicine.
- Advance care planning: Your palliative doctor will talk about you about your wishes and goals, doing their best to help you accomplish them. Note that your palliative team will continuously work with your regular doctors to make sure your care is well-coordinated.
Which are the 5 Stages of Palliative Care?
Palliative care could be perceived as the beginning of your symptom management treatment, but both you and your family should be ready to accept the not-so-pleasant period that might come afterward.
The stage that comes after palliative care includes hospice, which is also perceived as end-of-life care. If a doctor has estimated that a patient has six months or less to live, he/she will probably suggest that a person switches from palliative care to hospice, where he/she will receive similar treatments, except for those aimed at curing the underlying disease.
Here are the 5 stages through which a patient will pass:
Stage 1: Making Plans
Patients are encouraged to start making decisions regarding their care in advance. The sooner they start with the hospice program, the more the chances they’ll have to prolong their life and live to the fullest during their last days.
Planning in advance also allows them to think about their financial possibilities and make sure their insurance premiums cover the costs of hospice.
Stage 2: Spiritual and Emotional Care
Once the patient has enrolled in the hospice program, the designated team will do their best to provide him/her with the highest level of physical, emotional, and spiritual support. They will also do their best to help the families of the person who’s coping with numerous difficulties, making it easier for them to understand and accept death, and be ready for it when the time comes.
Stage 3: Help at Home
A team of professionals and trained volunteers will always be ready to help the patients’ families with everyday tasks – shopping, cleaning, running errands, or anything else they might need help with.
Most patients want to remain at home until the very end, and most hospice centers are ready to support their desires. That said, they will provide regular visits to check on a patient and his/her caregiver, making sure they’re okay and whether they need something.
Stage 4: Inpatient Care
Not all patients will want to stay at home, which is why hospice care can also be provided in hospitals or nursing facilities. If someone needs an inpatient hospice place or can’t be at home, hospice centers will arrange the move and all the necessary things.
Stage 5: Bereavement Support
Bereavement support is available for all the families who have lost their loved ones. Most centers offer counseling that lasts about 13 months after a patient’s death, making sure everyone feels fine ready to continue with their life.
Does Medicare Cover Palliative Care?
Palliative care is often covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health insurance policies. Still, you may be charged co-payments for some treatments and medications that might not be covered.
You’re advised to ask your insurance provider about which treatments are covered and which are not so that you get to know what options you have.