The Fundamentals of Palliative Care and Why It Matters

Mar 17, 2024
Stephen Bleeker

Knowing that the time will come for our death is one thing, but having a terminal illness that will ultimately take your life is an entirely different reality. It can be a difficult and emotional journey for those who suffer from a terminal disease, and the same goes for their families. When someone is going through a terminal illness, the goal is to make their remaining days as comfortable as possible through palliative care.

Palliative care is a type of medical care that focuses on relieving the symptoms, pain, and stress of a severe illness. It is appropriate at any stage of severe disease and can be provided with curative treatment. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide extra support, which is crucial for patients with a terminal illness. Few people know how palliative care works, so we will discuss the details in this article.

How Palliative Care Works

Palliative care is a type of medical care that focuses on relieving the symptoms, pain, and stress of a severe illness. It is appropriate at any stage of severe disease and can be provided with curative treatment. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide extra support.

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life for the patient and their family. The palliative care team will work with the patient to create an individualized treatment plan that considers their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This plan may include medications to relieve pain and other symptoms, counselling, and other therapies to help the patient and their family cope with the illness.

The palliative care team may also support the patient’s family, including emotional and practical support. They may also help with decision-making, such as when to move to hospice care.

Who Can Benefit from Palliative Care?

As mentioned, palliative care patients are those who have a terminal illness. With this in mind, there are many possible candidates for palliative care, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • COVID-19
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

These illnesses are chronic, progressive, and degenerative. Neurological or respiratory conditions can cause various symptoms, including muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, and impaired coordination. Multiple factors, including genetics, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices, can cause them. Treatment options vary depending on the condition and can include medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and lifestyle modifications to improve quality of life.

The Different Services of Palliative Care

As mentioned, a team of healthcare professionals carries out palliative care. However, the palliative care process varies depending on the condition, the patient’s needs, and the healthcare team’s approach. Generally, palliative care may include any of the following:

Nutrition Guidance

Terminally ill patients are often provided with advice and guidance on nutrition. This may include meal planning and advice on getting the most out of nutrition for the patient’s needs to support their remaining strength and well-being.

Pain Management

Pain management is a primary focus of palliative care. Pain management may include medications, relaxation techniques, physical therapy, and other strategies to manage pain and improve quality of life.

Psychological Support

Patients and their families are provided with psychological support to help them cope with the challenges of living with a terminal condition. This can include counselling, support groups, and other resources to help the patient and family manage.

Minimal Physical Exercise

Physical exercise can help to improve a patient’s physical and mental well-being. Minimal physical exercises such as gentle stretching, walking, and other activities can help to reduce pain and improve the overall quality of life.

Cognitive Exercises

Cognitive exercises such as puzzles, reading, and writing can help to stimulate the brain and keep it active. This can help reduce stress and anxiety, benefiting patients with terminal conditions.

Relaxation and Breathing Exercises

Relaxation and breathing exercises can help reduce terminal conditions’ physical and emotional symptoms. Relaxation and breathing exercises can be done in a seated or lying down position, including guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing.

By extension, meditation can also be a helpful tool for managing symptoms of terminal illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. Meditation can help to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase focus. It can also help to reduce physical pain and improve quality of life.

Massages

Massages can also be beneficial for those living with terminal conditions. Massages can help reduce pain, improve circulation, and reduce stress and depression. Massages can be done by a professional massage therapist or family or friends, depending on the person’s preference and comfort level.

Improving Sleep Quality

Improving sleep quality is also vital for managing terminal illnesses. This can be done by creating a calming environment, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and establishing a regular sleep schedule.

Talk Therapy

Talking goes a long way for terminally ill patients, and therapy can be a great way to help manage their emotions and feelings. Talking to a therapist or counsellor can help people process their emotions, gain insight into their feelings, and develop coping strategies to manage the situation better. Additionally, support groups are available for those with terminal illnesses that can provide a safe space to express their thoughts and feelings.

Where Is Palliative Care Done?

Palliative care can be done in hospitals or hospice facilities but is generally done at home. Home palliative care is also typically recommended for various reasons, such as:

More Comfort for the Patient

Palliative care provides comfort and support for the patient and their family, which is best done in the patient’s home. Palliative care teams can offer the same level of care in a home setting as in a hospital or hospice facility.

A Familiar Environment

Being in a familiar environment can help the patient better cope with their illness’s emotional and physical aspects. It also allows them to be surrounded by people they know and trust, which can help to reduce their emotional baggage.

More Control for the Patient’s Family

Palliative care in the home setting gives the patient’s family more control over the care they receive. This includes decisions about medications, treatments, and end-of-life care. It also allows the family to be more involved in the patient’s care, which is vital for their well-being.

Patient Independence

Terminally ill patients may be sick, but they still have the right to decide their care and treatment. Palliative care in the home setting allows patients to maintain their independence and autonomy while receiving medical care. This is especially important for those with advanced illnesses because they can be empowered.

Better Flexibility

Palliative care in the home setting is often more flexible than inpatient care. This can help provide better care to those in need of it. Home-based care also allows for visits from family and friends, as well as other support services. This can provide a greater sense of comfort and connection for the patient.

Cost Savings

Palliative care in the home setting can be cost-effective compared to inpatient care. Home-based care can often be provided at a lower cost than inpatient care, making it an attractive option for those who cannot afford other forms of treatment.

Improved Quality of Life

Above all else, home-based palliative care can improve the quality of life for those who may be facing a life-limiting illness. It can provide comfort and support to those in need, allowing them to spend their last days in their home surrounded by those they love.

Is Palliative Care the Same as Hospice Care?

While palliative and hospice care may seem similar, there are still distinctions. For one, hospice care is only available for those with a life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less.

On the other hand, palliative care is available for those with severe illnesses and can be provided in in-home and hospital settings. Additionally, palliative care relieves the symptoms and stress of severe disease. In contrast, hospice care is focused on providing comfort and support during the end-of-life stage.

Considerations When Hiring a Palliative Care Provider

All palliative care providers are expected to provide exemplary care, so choosing one will take work. For this reason, you must consider various factors, such as:

Community Reputation

Palliative care providers are expected to be experienced and knowledgeable in their field. Therefore, you must research the provider’s reputation in the community. Speak with other health professionals, family members, and friends to learn more about the provider and their services.

It is also possible to look for a palliative care provider online. However, you must take the time to read reviews and patient feedback to ensure that the provider is competent and reliable.

Care Services Provided

As mentioned, palliative care involves various services and treatments. It is crucial to find out what services the provider offers and the quality of care they provide. For example, do they offer in-home visits? How often do they provide care? These are essential questions because they are for the patient’s well-being.

Additionally, the provider should be familiar with the various treatments and medications available for palliative care. Ask questions about the side effects and risks associated with any therapies they offer.

Staff

Palliative care staff must have extensive knowledge of palliative care and its associated treatments to provide the best care possible. Make sure to ask if the staff members have had any specialized training in palliative care and if they are experienced in this type of care.

Palliative care staff must also possess qualities that will help them provide compassionate and effective care. Look for qualities such as empathy, communication skills, and the ability to be patient and understanding. It is also essential to ask how the staff will handle difficult conversations and provide emotional support.

Availability and Flexibility

At-home palliative care services are typically provided on an as-needed basis, so you must ensure that the staff is available when necessary. Of course, this also includes emergency availability, so ask about the staff’s availability and whether they offer flexible scheduling options.

Location

Even if palliative care is carried out at home, you should find a facility near you because it will make it easier for the staff to reach you quickly and provide the care you need when you need it. Conversely, it will make it easier for the patient to access the services they need and attend any follow-up appointments to ensure they get quality care.

Social Support

A terminal illness primarily affects the patient, but this does not mean they must go through it alone. The patient and their family must develop a strong support system, including friends, family, and professionals. This support system will help the patient and their family cope with the emotional and physical effects of the illness and provide the patient with comfort and peace of mind. It is also recommended that patients access resources that can provide information about their condition and any treatments or medications they may require.

Quality of Care

Knowing the kinds of care services a palliative care provider gives is one thing, but making sure that the quality of care is satisfactory is another. You should look for a certified and licensed provider to practice palliative care, as this will ensure they provide the best possible care. Additionally, you should ensure that the provider is adequately trained, experienced in palliative care, and familiar with the latest developments in the field.

For example, suppose you are looking for a palliative care provider to help with a terminal illness. In that case, you should ensure they are familiar with the specific condition and understand the patient’s needs. They should also be up-to-date on the latest treatments and medications for the condition and be willing to discuss the options with you to ensure the patient is receiving the best possible care.

Cost

Above all else, the cost is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a palliative care provider. Although palliative care is typically covered by insurance, the cost of services can still vary depending on the provider.

To ensure you get the best value for your money, you must research and compare the costs of different providers. Additionally, you should ensure that the provider offers various payment options and is transparent about their fees.

When to Call for Palliative Care

While palliative care is designated for those with serious illnesses or conditions, it can benefit anyone with a chronic or advanced disease. Palliative care can help relieve symptoms, improve quality of life, and provide emotional and spiritual support.

If you or someone you know is facing a chronic or advanced illness, you should consider calling for palliative care. The earlier you start palliative care, the more your quality of life can be improved.

Conclusion

Palliative care is recommended for anyone facing a chronic or advanced illness. While there are many palliative care providers, you must take time to find the right one for you or your loved one’s needs, especially since specialized services are often needed for this type of care. This way, you can ensure that the patient receives the best care to improve their quality of life despite their condition.

Assurance Home Care provides top-quality services for home health care in Ottawa. We understand the needs of patients, so we provide comprehensive healthcare solutions to ensure they are well taken care of. Call us today at 613-706-1578 for a consultation!