What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care provides therapies and medications that are designed to make patients more comfortable and ease the symptoms of serious illnesses or conditions—care designed to improve the quality of daily life. Though many people associate palliative care with hospice care, palliative care is not only for those in late stages of an illness. It is for any person, of any age, at any time in their illness. Palliative care relieves pain, addresses breathing difficulties, severe nausea, fatigue and emotional symptoms such as depression and anxiety that may accompany an illness.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and other specialists who work with the patient’s doctors to provide and coordinate care creating an extra layer of support.
Though palliative care is always a part of hospice care, palliative care can happen at any point during the course of an illness. Palliative care can be coupled to curative treatments. (See What Is Hospice? for more information.)
When Does Someone Need Palliative Care?
Palliative care can be requested by the patient or a member of the health team when needed. People of any age can receive palliative care services. Those who suffer from serious or chronic illnesses such as cancer, cardiac diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or other painful illnesses may receive care.
Where Do People Get Palliative Care?
The palliative care team delivers care in the hospital in addition to the care provided by the health team for the treatment of one’s illness. Almost 65 percent of hospitals with more than 50 beds – over 1,500 hospitals – offer some type of palliative care. The Center to Advance Palliative care offers a provider directory to determine if the hospital where you are receiving your care offers palliative care services. You can ask your doctor, nurse or member of your health team, too, about the services they offer.
Some programs are offering community based outpatient palliative care and home services. Inquire with your palliative care team or hospital social worker to see if these services exist in your community.
Where Can I Learn More About Palliative Care?
- Center to Advance Palliative care describes palliative care, how to get it, and provides additional resources.
- Medline Plus offered through the National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health has information on palliative care.
- The Center to Advance Palliative Care provides health care resources and information about palliative care.
- The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has a variety of resources to help patients and their families talk about advanced cancer and identify the best, individualized treatment plan for each patient.
- The Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing Association has a list of Patient/Family Teaching Sheets on Palliative Care. Many documents are in English, Spanish and Mandarin.
- The National Institute of Nursing Research has a brochure titled "Palliative Care: Improving quality of life when you're seriously ill."
Resources reviewed June 2013.
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