A life-changing or serious illness can alter your quality of life. When you have a serious illness, the support of your medical team, family and friends makes a difference. This is where palliative care comes into play.
You may think palliative care is only for people with a terminal illness – but that’s not entirely true. Any person diagnosed with a chronic, serious illness can benefit from palliative care to improve their quality of life. Supportive palliative care starts from day 1.
The focal point of palliative care is to provide better holistic symptoms management, pain, stress and symptom management for as long as your illness lasts, in coordination of ongoing concurrent treatment or if prognosis is 6 months or less, hospice care.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is patient-centered and family-focused. Palliative care is provided by a team of palliative care doctors, nurses, social workers and others who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. (Center to Advance Palliative Care.)
Palliative care is more than simply managing your medical needs – it is a way to live life. It's providing compassion and quality care to you and your family members.
Are There Different Kinds of Palliative Care?
Yes. There are 2 types: supportive palliative care and hospice.
Supportive palliative care focuses more on pain and comfort level, while at the same time allowing other disease interventions, such as attempts at cure or remission.
Hospice care, or end-of-life care, addresses the life-ending stage of a serious illness when no further curative or life-prolonging therapy is desired or available or when the adult patient or family member does not want to pursue it. When standard curative treatment begins to hurt and not help, intensive comfort measures, such as pain and symptom management, is an option.
Who Can Benefit From Palliative Care?
Anyone with a chronic, serious or life-limiting illness can benefit. Palliative care frequently is misunderstood as hospice or end-of-life care. However, you can receive supportive palliative care services at any stage of an illness. The earlier you access supportive palliative care services, the better your quality of life will be.
People receiving palliative care:
- Receive treatments that accommodate their wishes
- Experience less pain and other types of discomfort
- Have fewer hospital readmissions
- Often live longer when diagnosed with cancer
You are not the only one affected by your illness. Your family members also may need support. Benefits of palliative care for family members include:
- Improved family and patient satisfaction
- Better coping
- Less conflict and emotional distress
- Less depression
- Less post-traumatic stress symptoms
The Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) offers resources for patients, families and healthcare professionals to become more familiar with palliative care services and benefits. CAPC offers a free introductory course for patients and families to understand palliative care services.
GetPalliativeCare.org has information for you and your family including what you should know before seeking palliative care from your provider.
They also have a quiz called "Is Palliative Care Right for You?".
Who Do I Call To Get Palliative Care?
If you think you or a family member would benefit from palliative care, talk with your doctor or health care provider.
How Can I Pay for Care?
Palliative care may be paid for by your health insurance or managed care organization, or by state or federal programs such as Medicare or Medicaid. Services also may be available for veterans from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
How Can I Plan For a Serious Illness?
Living wills and other advance directives are written, legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Advance directives guide choices for doctors and caregivers if you're terminally ill, seriously injured, in a coma, in the late stages of dementia or near the end of life.
By planning ahead, you can get the medical care you want, avoid unnecessary suffering and relieve caregivers of decision-making burdens during moments of crisis or grief. You also help reduce confusion or disagreement about the choices you would want people to make on your behalf.
Advance directives aren't just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it's important for all adults to prepare these documents. (Visit the Mayo Clinic to learn more)
Texas Health and Human Services provides advanced directives on its website. They include:
- Declaration for Mental Health Treatment lets you decide about 3 mental health treatments - psychoactive medication, convulsive therapy and emergency mental health treatment.
- Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates, also called a living will, lets you communicate your wishes about the type of medical treatment you want if you are unable to make your wishes known because of illness or injury.
- Medical Power of Attorney gives the person you name the authority to make any and all health care decisions for you in accordance with your wishes, including religious and moral beliefs, when you are no longer capable of making those decisions for yourself.
- Out-of-Hospital Do Not Resuscitate is specific for ambulance, immediate care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, long-term acute care facilities, personal care home or your private home and applies only to the state of Texas.
There also are 2 other documents you may want to prepare that are not always considered advance directives:
- In-Hospital Do Not Resuscitate Information and Form is a required discussion and signature authority that lies upon any of your treating clinicians. This must be done with any new acute care hospital admissions.
- Statutory Durable Power of Attorney lets the person you designate take certain actions regarding your property, but does not give the person rights to make decisions regarding medical and healthcare decisions for you.