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Palliative Care: Bringing Comfort

When people hear the term palliative care, many assume that it's a treatment only for someone who is dying. But palliative care can also be used to bring physical and emotional comfort to anyone with a serious illness. Palliative care can benefit any patient at any age. And any stage of his or her illness.

Nurse giving medication to patient  

Overview

Palliative care focuses on improving a patient’s quality of life by improving the symptoms of his or her illness, such as pain, shortness of breath, and trouble sleeping. It's used with a variety of ailments. This includes cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, or heart failure.

Palliative care is not meant to cure an illness, but it can be given at the same time as medical treatments. It may be given at a hospital, a long-term care facility, or even in your own home. You don’t have to give up your existing healthcare provider to have palliative care.

The palliative care process

A team of specialists, including healthcare providers, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, and spiritual professionals, often work together to provide palliative care. This teamwork allows a number of treatment methods to be used to relieve symptoms.

One of the most common palliative care treatments is pain management. This may be done with pain-relieving medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen or stronger drugs like morphine. Nondrug therapies, sometimes called complementary therapies, may also be part of the pain management plan. These may include massage therapy, relaxation methods, music therapy, acupuncture, and aromatherapy.

Palliative care may also involve nonmedical support for patient and family members alike. Emotional support, spiritual guidance, and help navigating the healthcare system may be provided. If a patient has anxiety or depression as a result of his or her illness, palliative care can help ease that, too.

People with serious illnesses often experience extreme tiredness, and palliative care specialists can find ways to help restore energy and enable them to perform day-to-day tasks. For example, you might be advised to do a task, like bathing, at a time of the day when you’re at your best. Dietary changes and a regular rest schedule might also be suggested to keep your energy up.

How to get palliative care

If you are interested in palliative care for your illness, the first step is to speak with the healthcare provider who is treating you. Be sure to explain what is most important to improving your quality of life — this may be aggressive pain management, the ability to be treated at home, or something else entirely. Your healthcare provider can refer you to a palliative care service organization. 

Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care services. This depends on the situation. If you're concerned about the cost of palliative care, a social worker from the palliative care organization can help to address any questions you have.

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