Although more of us seem to be familiar with hospice programs, fewer residents of Anamosa and elsewhere are as familiar with the concept of palliative care.
It’s a philosophy of medical care where the focus is primarily on a patient’s quality of life in serious or life-threatening health conditions. In the past, many providers would try all sorts of desperate, painful and complex measures to possibly cure a condition or sustain life, but these weren’t always effective.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care often works with patients who are receiving palliative care. They have chosen to remain at home near the loved ones and want to focus on resting at home, rather than in a hospital setting where they’re more likely to be scared, lonely, and poked and prodded regularly.
With palliative care, they may occasionally need to go to an appointment with a provider, but for the most part, they can stay home recuperating. They also may work with a doctor, a pharmacist and any home health care staff to make sure they have appropriate medication that can help their pain but still leave them alert so they can interact with loved ones and caregivers.
Hospice actually is considered a component of palliative care – it has the same approach: it can halt invasive, painful treatments that may not give much hope for a good outcome, and allow someone to spend their final days, weeks or months in their home.
Not all palliative care patients follow the hospice route, however. Removing someone from the stresses of a hospital or medical center and letting them sleep in their own bed in their own home can greatly reduce someone’s stress, and in some cases may even create conditions that encourage healing.
The American Academy of Family Physicians said palliative care goes beyond changing someone’s surroundings or easing up on possibly unnecessary treatments.
Its goal is to relieve general suffering which can start with physical pain but also move into a patient’s psychosocial or spiritual well-being.
Why palliative care works
Some other reasons palliative care can be considered a useful option:
It helps patients feel better. Whether or not actual healing occurs or if they’re already at the end of their life, palliative care is reported to improve people’s mood and overall outlook. The National Cancer Institute said that people with advanced lung cancer receiving standard treatment as well as early palliative care reported having a better outlook and mood vs. those with similar health conditions who didn’t have palliative care. These feelings were present regardless of prognosis.
It can be begun anytime. Providers are encouraged to suggest palliative care when someone faces a chronic, life-threatening or potentially curable disease, including cancer. Certainly, patients can elect to continue more radical treatments or discuss options with providers, but providers should also discuss palliative care as a valid option early in a treatment process, not just toward the end when many strategies have been tried. This way, quality of life will be a focus through the entire process.
Affordability. Costs shouldn’t be a factor in the type of healthcare, but that is an unfortunate part of our modern world. But certainly, an extended stay in a hospital, especially with experimental procedures, will definitely run up a higher price tag than someone sent home with pain medication or home health care services.
More control. Serious illnesses, especially ones where providers keep trying different methods that haven’t worked, may sometimes make people feel helpless. But deciding to switch to palliative care can have a patient take an active role in their own health journey. They accept their diagnosis, whatever the outcome, and focus on their own efforts to deal with it.
Different conditions. While much of the research into palliative care focuses on the potential value to cancer patients, it can benefit others. For instance, people battling Parkinson’s disease or various forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease or their families may want to consider it. Efforts to make them feel more comfortable in their surroundings can go a long way in reducing anxiety as their disease progresses physically and mentally.
A team approach. Much of the developing research into palliative care suggest that an entire palliative care team can assemble to discuss treatment plans and options, all with the same focus on his or her quality of life. This level of support can be encouraging for patients and their families who may sometimes feel either that they’re not being listened too or receiving conflicting recommendations. Members of the team can include primary providers, specialists such as oncologists or neurologists, nurses, home health care staff or other advocates including social workers or even hospice personnel. Decisions can still be up to the patient, but they often appreciate having access to these experts.
According to the AAFP, palliative care is considered useful to patients but under-utilized, especially when advanced or terminal illnesses are involved. But patients or their families should be able to request or discuss it at any point in their treatment.