What can you tell me about palliative care? My husband suffers from lung disease and is receiving radiation for prostate cancer but is not terminally ill. I have heard that palliative care can help him with his pain and discomfort. What can you tell me?
Palliative care is a very effective service that can help patients relieve the symptoms and stress associated with a serious illness. Unfortunately, most people do not know about it or do not understand how it can help. Here is what you should know.
What is Palliative Care?
Most people hear the words "palliative care" and think "hospice," but these are two different types of care. Hospice is reserved for when curative treatments have been exhausted and patients have less than six months to live. Palliative care, on the other hand, is a medical specialty that focuses on providing relief from symptoms of a serious illness, such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and depression. It can also help patients deal with the side effects of medical treatment.
Anyone with a serious illness can benefit from palliative care, including those with cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer's, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and other serious illnesses. Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment at any age and during any stage of a serious illness.
Palliative care is provided by a team that works with your doctor to provide an extra layer of support and care. This team may include palliative care doctors, nurses, social workers and other specialists. Palliative care teams are trained to help patients understand all of their treatment options along with the quality of life ramifications so that patients can make informed decisions regarding what is best for them.
Often, patients assume their doctors will take care of their pain and stress, but some doctors may not be well-trained in pain and symptom management. That is why palliative care is invaluable.
Palliative care was developed in the United States in the 1990s but didn't became a formal medical subspecialty in 2008. Today, palliative care programs exist in 57% of U.S. hospitals with more than 50 beds and in 90% of hospitals with 300 beds or more.
How to Receive Care
According to the Center to Advance Palliative Care, there are approximately six million people in the U.S. who have a need for palliative care but most patients do not know to ask for it. If you feel that a palliative care specialist could help your husband, start by talking to his doctor and ask for a referral. If his doctor is not helpful, visit GetPalliativeCare.org where you can search for a specialist in your area.
Palliative care can be provided in a variety of places, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, doctors' clinics and at your own home. You will also be happy to know that most private insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care services.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.