There is a branch of medicine that deals specifically with helping people who have been diagnosed with serious illness, and this branch is called palliative care. Palliative care focuses on relieving patient discomfort and pain, and focuses also on preventing suffering while a patient deals with a serious illness. Palliative care is sometimes mistakenly interchanged with hospice care, but the two are different in the sense that palliative care can apply to any stage in a person’s disease, and can also apply to people suffering from curable disease. Hospice care on the other hand applies to the end stage of a person’s life, focusing on making their passing as comfortable as possible.
Palliative care is multidisciplinary in approach. It addresses multiple aspects of a person’s sickness including pain relief, emotional support, spiritual support and even social support if the sickness has taken away a person’s ability to perform social functions effectively.
The National Institute for Palliative Care in the UK describes it as: “palliative care is the active holistic care of patients with advanced progressive illness. Management of pain and other symptoms and provision of psychological, social and spiritual support is paramount. The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families. Many aspects of palliative care are also applicable earlier in the course of the illness in conjunction with other treatments.”
As you see, one of the key phrases here is the improvement of quality of life. That said, examples of what palliative care does for patients are:
- · Demystification of the process of dying and have the patient accept it as a way of life, for terminally ill patients
- · Provide as much pain relief as is medically possible for patients
- · Provide psychological and emotional support to patients
- · Provide spiritual support if necessary, engaging the help of chaplains or priests upon request
- · Offer support systems that the patient can interact with, making life seem as normal as possible
- · Offer social support such as legal or accounting services
- · Offer support to the family while they deal with caring for a sick family member
Studies have shown that in some illnesses such as metastatic lung cancer, patients who received palliative care lived longer than those who received standard care—by an average of two months. Patients who received palliative care were also reported to have lived a better quality of life, experienced less depression and received better levels of symptomatic comfort. The reason for this is that the care that the patient gets from palliative care specialists mean that they feel better, and patients who feel better are more likely to take their medication, eat better and even engage in physical activity—a combination of good things that on the whole can contribute to a longer life.