Does your loved one need palliative care?

It was Henry Miller who once said, “It is a very limited concept of medicine that strives to understand disease, but not the needs of sick people.”

Nowhere is that need greater than the care of our elderly. Fortunately, the healthcare industry is taking steps toward recognizing the unique needs of our senior loved ones by providing specialized care that meets the healthcare needs of the patients as well as the emotional and supportive needs of those who love them.

Commonly known as “comfort care,” palliative care provides a team of specialists who cater to the varying healthcare needs of a patient. That team often includes a physician, nurse, pharmacist, a social worker, chaplain and volunteers.

But what is palliative care, and why is it needed in today’s healthcare design?

What is palliative care?

“When you’re asking about the difference between hospice and palliative care,” explained Dr. Bruce Chamberlain, medical director for Hospice for Utah and Palliative Care for Utah, “it’s like comparing fruit and apples. Fruit is palliative care and hospice is a subset of palliative care, or apples.”

To better understand this type of care, it’s helpful to determine what it is not. Palliative care isn’t limited to hospice care. Rather, hospice is a specific form of palliative care that provides care for people facing a terminal illness who likely have less than six months to live.

“In other words,” as defined by the staff on the Palliative Doctors website, “hospice care is always palliative, but not all palliative care is hospice care.”

Palliative care encompasses the comprehensive needs of a patient, relieving the symptoms of a disease or disorder. It brings relief from suffering and “improves quality of life for people of any age and at any stage in a serious illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic or life-threatening.”

“Palliative care was developed in response to those needs,” wrote Dr. David Weissman in the article, “Palliative Care: What You Need to Know. “It has grown rapidly because it is an effective solution, proven to relieve suffering, improve communication and coordinate care over the course of an illness.”

Rather than focusing on the disease, palliative care places the attention on the patient.

“Palliative care helps your primary physician ensure the kind of responsive, patient-centered care that each of us deserves when we are at our most vulnerable,” wrote Dr. Weissman.

 When requested, palliative care can be provided in the home, hospital, extended-care facilities, daycare centers, and specialized units.

Why is Palliative Care Needed?

As the proportion of elderly increases, experts estimate the population of people aged 85 years and older will double to 10 million by 2030. Of those, one-quarter will have dementia. Statistics forecast an increase in chronic disease, a decrease in functional capacity, decreased physiologic reserves and adaptability as well as a decrease in financial capacity.

According to recent death studies, seven out of 10 Americans die every year from chronic, progressive, incurable illnesses. With 73 percent of caregivers being women, the healthcare needs of the people we love exceed our ability and available resources to properly care for them.

Unfortunately the need for specialized care has resulted in a healthcare system that struggles to meet the needs of patients or families and creates an inconsistent and impersonal atmosphere that often orders potentially inappropriate or unnecessary treatments. In truth, the quality of medical care being provided for the frail, elderly, debilitated, homebound and dying is a national concern.

Many family members complain that healthcare for their senior loved one is too fragmented with poor communication from one site of care to another.

“Focusing on communication in addition to pain and symptom management allows the palliative care team to explore patients’ values and goals,” explained Dr. Weissman. “Patients facing serious illness today can live for years. This is why palliative care is necessary for those with serious, chronic illnesses who want to remain in control of their lives and care.”

Palliative Care is specialized and easily accessible

Providing quality medical care is the top priority of every physician. However palliative doctors, such as Dr. Chamberlain and other members of Palliative Care For Utah, have specialized training that enables them to provide expertise in pain management and symptom control as well as offering support in addressing medical treatment or overwhelming stress.

As this specialized care becomes more prevalent in the healthcare industry, patients can often ask for care to be provided where they live. This means no family inconvenience or lengthy waits at the doctor’s office. Patients and their loved ones can take comfort in knowing their palliative care physician is prepared to handle difficult decisions or processes that may not be directly related to the standard medical care.

We want to provide the best care for the people we love. But, oftentimes, those needs exceed our ability to care for them in the way we desire. By understanding the types of services palliative care can provide for you and your loved one, you can appreciate the vital role this type of care fulfills in the healthcare industry and welcome it into your caregiving routine.

This article was originally published on the Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.