what is palliative care

What is Palliative Care and Its Benefits?

April 3, 2019

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a type of medical care provided to patients who needed extra medical attention. This type of medical attention is conducted by doctors and hospital staff with a special form of training. It’s usually given to patients with serious conditions and chronic illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, congestive heart failures, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and kidney failure.

Palliative Care

Aside from treating the illness and relieving symptoms, the primary goal of palliative care is to provide comfort and help patients and family members to cope with stress. Also, medical care providers work together with the patient and loved ones and carefully relate to them the expectations, goals of the treatment, and symptoms management. Palliative care can be provided at the hospital, home, or nursing homes. A 2016 medical report shows proof that palliative care may indeed help a patient improve quality of life.

The medical staffs will support the patient and loved ones on a daily basis until they fully recover or at the end of a persons’ life. They normally focus on areas of emotional, spiritual and social aspects, which they believe would improve patients’ quality of life during treatment and recovering periods. However, some individual shows distress when they hear the term palliative care. It doesn’t necessarily mean death is nearing and should not be confused with the term hospice care (which means treatment has stopped and the patient is expected to live less than six months). Palliative care is provided at the beginning and during treatment.

Palliative care is provided by medical staffs with specialized training like:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Chaplains
  • Physiotherapists

It’s usually provided by the hospital or care provider facilities like cancer centers and caregiver agencies.

Medication and some forms of treatment are also believed to possess palliative effects when they somehow provide emotional comfort to a patient without having a direct curative effect on their illness. For instance, sedative effects from pain killers in dealing with pain sensations or reducing nausea after chemotherapy.

Brief Historical Background of Palliative Care 

Care service for a patient with serious medical cases began in the early 1950s by Dr. Cicely Saunders. It actually first focused on patients who are terminally ill and expected to live in less than one year. She advocates relieving total pain experiencing by the family and the dying patient. By total pain, she meant not only physical pain but also emotional pain. In 1974, the term palliative care was first used by Dr. Balfour Mount of The Royal Hospital in Montreal, Canada. This used to differentiate it from the term hospice care.

In the 1960s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, an American psychiatrist, wrote a bestseller called “Death and Dying”. It’s an emotional book that involves several conversations with dying patients so we could better understand how impending death affects them and their family. She’s also the author of several critically-acclaimed books with the same topic like life lessons, on grief and grieving, the wheel of life, and on life after death.

In 1997, a medical report was published in the United States to address the insufficiency of palliative and hospice care agencies in the country. With the efforts of George Soros’s Open Society and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a number of palliative and hospice care facilities were launched throughout the country. By the year 2006, around 50 palliative fellowship programs were established to satisfy the emotional and spiritual needs of patients.

Palliative Care Procedure and Benefits

Palliative care is provided to individuals with serious medical conditions. This is to primarily give them comfort and help cope with mental stress and anxiety. However, there’s no greater pain than knowing a loved one is in pain or having thoughts of possible imminent death. The aim of palliative care is to offer patient and family member support and care to somehow reduce emotional pain caused by the situation.

If the doctor recommended palliative care, it doesn’t necessarily mean impending death but rather, the patient has a life-limiting illness and further observation may be needed to properly conclude the condition. Though both palliative and hospice focus more on comfort rather than cure, the difference is the life expectancy of patients. If it’s prescribed by physicians, it should not be delayed and proper medical care must be provided immediately.

Improve Quality of Life

The main goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of living for individuals with chronic illness. The palliative care team will also encourage the patients to stay connected with normal activities or hobbies that make them happy. The palliative care team will likely consist of doctors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

Nowadays, most general hospital worldwide offers palliative or hospice care to their patients. It normally begins after diagnosis and will continue alongside treatment procedures. Hospice care is provided when treatment no longer applies and life expectancy is determined to be less than six months. This occurs when benefits are outweighed by symptoms from the illness.

In the past few years, numerous studies show evidence of improvement in the quality of everyday life of patients. Researchers also observed a significant increase in quality of mood and optimism among patients who undergone palliative care early after diagnosis compared to patients who received late. The study also shows proof that it helps family members, friends, and even caregivers in gaining a sense of peace and in the healing process.

Boosts Positive Outlook

In a recent study of 350 patients with advanced cases of cancer were provided basic treatments or basic treatments with palliative care. Patients receiving palliative care were visited at least once a month by the palliative care team of the hospital. In the 12th and 24th week after the treatment had begun, both groups were evaluated. They observed a better outlook on life among patients under palliative care. While patients who didn’t receive palliative care shows no improvement in their quality of life and some even exhibits an even gloomier outlook on life. However, patients with gastrointestinal cancer show no difference at all in either group.

In addition, after the 24th month, the patients who undergone palliative care also were likely to use what psychologists called adaptive-coping strategy. It’s a coping mechanism were the patient may desire to make his life better by accepting his circumstance and managing his emotional health.