Although similar to hospice care, palliative care and hospice care are different. Palliative care typically starts at the time of diagnosis and is available along with any treatment intended to cure a patient. Palliative care aims to manage the pain and the symptoms that treatment typically causes (e.g., nausea from chemotherapy). As progressive diseases and life-threatening illnesses become more serious and a cure is no longer being pursued, palliative care services take a shift in focus and begin to address the issues pertaining to end-of-life. Palliative care services are offered by a team of trained professionals, such as physicians, registered nurses, home health aides, social workers, and chaplains who are committed to working together in an effort to provide comprehensive care for patients and their loved ones. The services include:
- Providing medications to help relieve patient’s pain and other symptoms
- Assisting patients and families in making difficult decisions around medical care
- Facilitating the communication of bad news relating to diagnosis and prognosis
- Helping families steer their way through the complex medical system
- Helping patients complete advance directives regarding their wishes for care
- Helping patients communicate their wishes to the designated decision-maker (proxy) and other family members about quality of life issues and how thepatient may achieve that quality of life
- Using physical, social, spiritual, and psychological interventions to optimize a patient’s quality of life
- Offering emotional support to all members of the family
Palliative care may be administered during efforts to prolong life and as hope for a cure fades and aggressive measures to treat the patient ends. Hospice care provides palliative care for those patients in their last stages of life.
Patients benefiting from palliative care include those afflicted with cancer, COPD, congestive heart failure, ALS, kidney failure, Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimer’s Disease, among other illnesses and life-threatening diseases.
Palliative care services are offered wherever the patient resides or in a hospital setting if a patient is admitted. Palliative care nurses are trained in medications used for pain and symptom control, and they communicate regularly with the treating physician.