By Victor Montour
Day after day as my colleague and I are pounding the pavement going from one community partner to the other and we hear “What is the point of Palliative Care?” I hope today I can shed some light on what palliative care is and why it is a vital role in the wellbeing of patients dealing with a life-limiting disease.
If you were to look up a definition of palliative care it would read something like this:
Palliative care is a team approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems and or complications associated with a life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, by impeccable assessment and treatment of symptoms and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
It is important to know that palliative care should be given throughout a patient’s experience with their life-threatening illness. It should begin at diagnosis and continue through treatment, follow-up care, and the end of life. Palliative care intends neither to hasten nor postpone death. The primary goal of palliative care is to enhance quality of life and positively influence the course of and individual’s illness.
Research shows that palliative care and its many components are beneficial to the patient and family health and well-being. A number of studies in the recent years have shown that patients who have their symptoms controlled and are able to communicate their emotional needs have a better experience with their medical care. Their quality of life and physical symptoms improve.
Now let’s get down to the real substance of what palliative care can offer. To help answer the questions of “What is the point of Palliative Care?” I want to make sure to address some very specific topics or items. You see palliative care can address a large range of issues that integrates an individual’s needs into their care. The physical and emotional effects of a life-limiting disease and its treatment may vary differently from person to person.
For example, differences in age, culture background, or support systems that result in very different palliative care needs. A comprehensive Joint Commission Certified Community Based Palliative Care program like the one at Front Range Hospice and palliative care will take the following issues into account for each patient and work to help the patient set goals to address the issues that will provide them with The Best Days Possible.
Below I have listed some common issues addressed physically, emotionally and spiritually in order to paint a better picture of how palliative care can help you or your patients.
Physical – Common physical symptoms that are managed in palliative care include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pain, shortness of breath, insomnia, water weight gain, and many others. This list is not inclusive of all symptoms that can be managed. The Physician or Nurse Practitioner working in conjunction with your primary care doctor and your specialty doctors can develop a plan that is tailored to the individuals needs with the focus being to manage symptoms early so the patient can have the best quality of life at home and prevent exacerbations and returns to the hospital Emergency Department.
Emotional and coping – Our palliative care specialists can provide resources to help patients and families to deal with the emotions that come with a life-limiting diagnosis and treatment. Depression, anxiety, fear and loss are only a few of the concerns that can be addresses in our palliative care program. Again, this list is not all inclusive of our services. Our experts may all so provide counseling, advanced care planning, recommend support groups, hold family meetings or make referrals to mental health professionals, affirm life and regard dying as a normal process.
Spiritual – With a life-limiting disease, patients and families tend to look more deeply for meaning in their lives. Some feel their diagnosis brings them closer to faith; others might question their faith as they work to understand why this disease happened to them. Our experts in palliative care can help the patient and family find a sense of peace or reach a point of acceptance that is appropriate for the patient and the family’s situation.
Hospice – Making the transition from curative treatment to end-of-life care is a key part of palliative care. The Community Based Palliative Care team at Front Range Hospice and Palliative Care can help patients and their loved ones prepare for physical changes that may occur near the end of life and address appropriate symptom management for this stage of care. The team can also help patients cope with the different thoughts and emotional issues that arise, such as worries about leaving loved ones behind, reflections about their legacy and relationships, or reaching closure with their life. In addition, palliative care can support family members and loved ones emotionally and with issues such as when to withdraw cancer therapy, grief counseling, and transition to hospice.
Patients and their loved ones should ask their doctor about palliative care. In addition to discussing their needs for symptom relief and emotional support, patients and their families should consider the amount of communication they need. What people want to know about their diagnosis and care varies with each person. It’s important for patients to tell their doctor about what they want to know, how much information they want, and when they want to receive it.
For more information on our Joint Commission Certified Community Based Palliative Care please contact our office at (970)776-8080 or (303)957-3101 to speak to one of our community liaisons.