Palliative Care

What is palliative care?
Palliative care is the comprehensive care of a person with a life threatening illness. It incorporates expert management of pain and other distressing symptoms, and also includes psychosocial and spiritual care according to the needs, values, beliefs and culture of a patient and his/her family.

Who provides palliative care?
Palliative care is provided by an interdisciplinary team that may include a doctor who specializes in palliative medicine, a nurse, pharmacist, social worker, dietician, and volunteers. Palliative care doctors concentrate on preventing and alleviating suffering, improving one’s quality of life, and helping a patient and their loved ones cope with the stress and burden of your illness.

What is the goal of palliative care?
The goal of palliative care is to make a patient comfortable and help them achieve the best possible quality of life. A patient can have palliative care while they are undergoing treatments that may cure or reverse the effects of their illness. In fact, palliative care can help a patient cope with aggressive treatments by getting their pain and symptoms under control to help them fight the disease.

What does palliative care do?
Pain and symptom control: A patient’s palliative care team will identify their sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with breathing, fatigue, depression, insomnia, or bowel or bladder issues. Then the team will provide treatments that can offer appropriate relief.

Communication and coordination: Palliative care teams are exceptionally good communicators. They put great importance on communication between the patient, their family and doctors in order to ensure that the patient’s needs are fully met. These include establishing goals for their care, help with decision-making and coordination of care.

Emotional support: Palliative care focuses on the entire person, not just the illness. The team members caring for the patient will address any social, psychological, emotional or spiritual needs they may have.

Family/caregiver support: Caregivers bear a great deal of stress as well, so the palliative care team supports family members as well. This focused attention helps ease some of the strain and can help the patient with their decision making.

What is the difference between palliative care and hospice care?
Palliative care is whole-person care that relieves symptoms of a disease or disorder, whether or not it can be cured. Hospice care is a specific type of palliative care for people who likely have 6 months or less to live. In other words, hospice care is always palliative, but not all palliative care is hospice care.

Is palliative care available in Connecticut?
Yes. Most major health care facilities offer varying degrees of palliative care. The State of Connecticut and health care providers are continually trying to improve the level of palliative care offered in Connecticut. In 2013, recognizing the importance of palliative care to critically ill patients, the General Assembly established the Palliative Care Advisory Council to examine the delivery of palliative care in Connecticut. The purpose of the Council was to examine the current delivery of palliative care in the state and make recommendations for identifying and expanding best practices.

Besides the patient, who else benefits from this type of care?
Everyone involved! Patients - as well as family caregivers - are the special focus of palliative care. The patient’s doctors and nurses benefit also because they know they are meeting the patient’s needs by providing care and treatment that reduces their suffering and improves their quality of life.

What can a patient expect?
A patient can expect to have more control over their care in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere that reduces anxiety and stress. Their plan of care is reviewed each day by the palliative care team and discussed with the patient to make sure their needs and wishes are being met and that their treatments are in line with the patient’s goals. The patient can also expect relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. This care improves their ability to go through medical treatments and it helps them better understand their condition and their choices for medical care. In short, they can expect the best possible quality of life.

Where can palliative care be found?
Palliative care can be provided at a hospital, a nursing home, an assisted-living facility, or at home. There are a number of ways to find a doctor who specializes in palliative medicine, including asking a person’s personal doctor to refer them to a palliative doctor.

How does a patient know that they are receiving the most beneficial or appropriate treatment?
Palliative doctors are concerned about the patient as a whole person—not just the part of them that is sick. They understand that people with serious illnesses can be frightened and unsure of themselves when making medical decisions. They also understand that there is not always one right or wrong answer and that the patient’s needs and wishes may change over time. Palliative doctors consider all of this when they help the patient develop their treatment plan.

Who should take advantage of palliative care?
Palliative care may be right for a person if they are experiencing pain, stress and other symptoms due to a serious illness. Serious illnesses include, but are not limited to, cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis. Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness and a patient can get it along with treatment meant to cure you.