Health & Medicine

Palliative care an option for those not ready for hospice

Quality of life. It is a term we often hear when someone has a life-threatening illness where treatment and therapies can prolong life but may not allow patients to live a fulfilling or necessarily comfortable life.

Today, people with cancer and other very serious diseases are living longer and survival times that once were measured in weeks are now measured in years. For this reason, palliative care is often the key for many in finding quality and comfort.

Still, much about hospice care and palliative care is misunderstood.

What is the difference in hospice and palliative care?

Hospice care generally provides support and symptom management for patients whose life expectancy is thought to be six months or less. Palliative care is not about death and dying; it is about making the most of life, for however long it lasts and has no time restrictions. Palliative care can be received by patients at any stage of illness, whether it be terminal or not.

Who could be helped by palliative care?

Some of the serious illnesses where patients may benefit from palliative care include cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis and others.

What are the benefits of palliative care?

The focus for the patient is completely on quality of life. That includes pain management and the treatment of symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and insomnia. But it also includes making sure the patient's emotional and spiritual needs are fulfilled.

Overall, palliative care should be thought of as a component of a comprehensive treatment plan available early on in a patient's disease. Goals of care and therapies are developed for each patient, which can then inform discussions and decisions about treatment. This empowers patients, because they decide what they want to get out of their medical care.