Defining the Goals of Palliative Care

woman in palliative care being comforted

Palliative care is a crucial aspect of life for those suffering from any number of debilitating diseases. The goal of palliative care is to relieve the patient's physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and advocate on their behalf as they work towards death with dignity. The World Health Organization estimates that just 14% of patients who need palliative care receive it globally.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care focuses on treating the symptoms and side effects of serious illnesses and improving quality of life. These services are often provided to ensure living with these chronic diseases is more tolerable for patients and their families. Palliative care also helps reduce pain, physical discomfort, anxiety/depression, fatigue, or insomnia by taking into account patient preferences such as type (or level) of activity they want day-to-day.

Who Can Benefit from Palliative Care?

who can benefit from palliative care

Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a severe illness. Examples include:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Lung diseases
  • Kidney failure
  • Dementia
  • ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)

While receiving palliative care, people can remain under the guidance of their regular health care provider and undergo treatment for their condition.

Who Provides Palliative Care?

A palliative care team is a group of experts in their fields who work with the patient, family, and other doctors to provide medical, social, emotional, and practical support. The members vary depending on what's needed, and resources available, but typical palliative medicine includes professional specialists such as:

  • A team of doctors
  • Nurses and nurse practitioners
  • Physician assistants
  • Registered dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Massage therapists
  • Chaplains
  • Counselors
  • Physical therapists

A person's team may vary based on their needs in terms of symptoms management and level of care. To begin palliative care, a person's healthcare provider can refer them to a specialist or ask for one themselves if the need arises. Palliative care can be performed in hospitals, cancer centers, outpatient palliative care clinics, and long-term care facilities. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to employ a home care agency that has palliative care specialists or palliative care services available.

According to the National Institute on Aging, "Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance policies may cover palliative care. Veterans may be eligible for palliative care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Private health insurance might pay for some services. Health insurance providers can answer questions about what they will cover."

Visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization website to learn more about the services available to you in your area.

Is There a Difference Between Palliative and Hospice Care?

The two treatments available to those facing death are palliative care and hospice care. Palliative care can be a great comfort to those who are terminally ill. It is often offered simultaneously as treatment of their disease and is commonly offered at the time of diagnosis or prognosis, so they feel more comfortable during whatever life has left for them.

Hospice care begins after terminal illness treatments have stopped or when there isn't hope for recovery from an injury/illness anymore (typically a 6-month life expectancy). Hospice allows families to focus on giving their dying loved one quality of life rather than trying to prolong it past what could reasonably be expected given one's health condition.

The Goals of Palliative Care

Palliative care is a curative treatment that focuses on the quality of life for a patient. The goals are to improve comfort, minimize pain and anxiety, restore dignity, maintain autonomy as much as possible in daily activities and decision-making processes. Its purpose is not just about decreasing symptom burden but increasing happiness without modifying their disease or condition itself.

the main goals of palliative care

Treating Symptoms

The palliative care team will identify additional symptoms and treatments for patients living with long-term illnesses or receiving care such as vigorous chemotherapy. This helps to ease both the physical and mental toll these symptoms can cause.

Minimizing Discomfort

Pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite are the most prevalent symptoms near the end of life. Unrelieved pain can be a source of great distress in patients and families, especially when it worsens other conditions. Managing pain at this stage becomes incredibly important to alleviate discomfort without worrying about addiction or tolerance issues with opioid medication use.

Improving Quality of Life

In one study, 160 patients hospitalized for weeks during cancer treatments involving bone marrow transplants were randomly assigned to receive standard medical care or palliative care plus standard care.

After two weeks in the hospital, patients with palliative care reported fewer symptoms, a smaller drop in quality of life, and less depression and anxiety than those who had standard care. Patients who received palliative care also reported some improvements after three months.

Social & Spiritual Support

Emotional and psychological health treatment is just as crucial for patients who suffer from a severe illness. Proper Palliative care ensures that the patient remains in active relationships with loved ones, friends, family members, and caregivers, which can be difficult when their bodies start to fail them. Forms of therapy such as art therapy or pet therapy are also used to feel more at peace about their situation.

Providing Relief for Caregivers

A person may have many support systems in their daily life, but as the time approaches the end and their care needs change, it is essential to find someone who can help with their care goals. Asking for referrals from health providers or your personal care providers could be an option if you're not sure where to start looking on your own. Taking a team approach throughout palliative care consultations can increase the quality of life of patients and ensure all loved ones are involved in the treatment options.

Palliative care can provide respite to family caregivers and hands-on help for those patients who need it. This ensures that everyone is as calm as possible during a difficult time.