What comes to mind when you hear the term "Palliative Care"? If you are like me, it's synonomous with Hospice Services. In fact, when a nurse practitioner recently recommended it for my father, I became alarmed. I knew Dad's COPD, Congestive Heart Failure, and Diabetes conditions were serious but felt unprepared to hear a recommendation for "Palliative Care". That's because my understanding of the term was flawed. I believed that Pallative care was designed to keep terminal patients "comfortable" at life's end. Dad's conditions were serious and definitely difficult to manage but no one had labeled them as terminal. I came to learn that Palliative care can be a vital addition to an active treatment plan for many serious and chronic diseases.
Are you or a loved one missing out on the benefits of Palliative Care?
With medical advances, Americans in general, are living longer. However, many find themselves also living with chronic disease conditions. The burden these diseases place on patient and family members can be enormous. Where can a family turn for assistance when the chronic medical needs of a loved one are becoming difficult to manage? For many, Palliative Care can offer patients and their families another layer of support.
Unfortunately, many people do not take advantage of this resource due to misunderstanding of Palliative Care and its goals. In fact, research indicates that many physicians often equate Palliative Care with Hospice and therefore, are unlikely to recommend it to patients unless they have a terminal/end stage illness. The reality is that Palliative Care is beneficial for many patients with serious or chronic illnesses along with curative treatment.
Palliative Care: The Definition
"...is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness, whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for the both the patient and family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patients primary doctors to provide an extra layer of support. This care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment."
In short, Palliative care is NOT end of life care. It's designed to enhance the care a patient is already receiving by improving care coordination, better managing and controlling symptoms, and helping families navigate the complexities of living with chronic disease.
Is Palliative Care Right for Your Loved One?
Consider turning to Palliative Care for extra support if you or a family member are dealing with any of the following issues:
- Serious illness such as Cancer, Congestive Heart Failure, COPD, Emphysema, Lung Disease, Kidney Failure, Liver Failure, Neurological Disease (ALS, Parkinson's, MS...), Dementia.
- Unmanaged symptoms like pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, depression, poor appetite, nausea, constitpation.
- Difficult side effects from treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
- Frequent ER visits or hospitalizations for the same symptoms or conditions.
- Indecision regarding treatment options...needs assistance evaluating medical choices and finding necessary resources.
- In need of assistance coping with the stress of a chronic disease and emotional or spiritual support.
What assistance does Palliative Care include?
Patients and their families gain access to a team of professionals including physician, nurse practitioners and social workers all working together in support of the patient. The team works in concert with the patient's primary medical care team to provide assistance in reducing pain, minimizing side effects and symptoms, connecting patients with complimentary services like acupuncture or massage therapy for stress reduction, disease education and more. While primary care physicians and specialists are typically focused on treating the disease condition, a palliative care team will devote their efforts to enhancing quality of life.
Is Palliative Care covered under insurance plans?
With a physician's referral, pallative care is often paid under Medicare Part B, Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Check with your plan for coverage details and applicable co-insurance fees before initiating care.
What benefits does Palliative Care Offer?
In my Dad's case, the Palliative care team offered a great deal of education and advice for minimizing his primary concern, frequent trips to the ER and hospitalizations for CHF symptoms and complications. The team helped us develop a detailed "Action Plan" to better manage his symptoms. The plan was presented as a flow chart and detailed the actions we were to take with progressive symptoms. It really helped reduce anxiety levels for all parties and restored a feeling of control over the process.
Additionally, Dad had so many specialists who operated independently. It was often frustrating because there was virtually no coordination between the different physicians. Information frequently wasn't shared between offices and family members were constantly having to follow up. It was a real relief when the Palliative Care team stepped in to coordinate medical care between the different specialities. They assisted us in making care choices by educating us on the "pros and cons" of options.
The team also recommended some complimentary therapies which helped alleviate some of my father's symptoms and discomfort. Specially trained massage therapists worked to reduce swelling in extremities through lymphatic drainage. This greatly reduced pain and improved dad's mobility. Dad was also connected with a social worker who helped him deal with some of the anxiety associated with health conditions. Most of these services were provided in the comfort of Dad's own residence which was a "plus" for the family.
After gaining a new understanding of Palliative care, I am now able to recommend these services to our agency's clients. Often, Easy Living caregivers work in conjunction with Palliative Care providers to maximize the quality of life for clients with dealing with serious disease conditions.
Interested in learning more? Call Easy Living Services today at 770-442-8664. We're pleased to help in any way possible.