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When Should You Consider Palliative Care For Your Senior Loved One?

Last month was World Hospice and Palliative Care Day — a unified day of action to celebrate and support hospice and palliative care around the globe. It’s never too late to raise awareness to the great need and benefit of hospice and palliative care in this country and indeed around the world. In this week’s blog, we thought it appropriate to focus on palliative care in San Mateo and elsewhere, which aims to manage troubling symptoms to make patients with serious illness more comfortable.

Palliative care often leads to hospice care in the last six months of life, but not everyone in palliative care will end up there. Some make recoveries and move on to regain their healthy selves. The goal behind palliative care is to help relieve symptoms such as pain, nausea, shortness of breath, constipation, itching and many other symptoms so patients can enjoy life more. According to the National Cancer Institute, palliative care addresses the person as a whole, not just their disease, with a goal to prevent or treat the symptoms and side effects of the disease.

Who Can Benefit From Palliative Care?

Patients in palliative care generally have some kind of chronic or advanced illness, ranging from cancer and chronic lung disease to heart failure and neurologic disease. Those with life-threatening illness may also receive curative treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. Many patients are elderly, but some are middle aged or younger. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on seniors.

Palliative care is also a good option for those with a serious disease that has led to multiple hospitalizations or emergency room visits during the previous year. Being in palliative care doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dying. Yes, it’s designed for those with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. But there are plenty of people who are cured and don’t need palliative care any longer, while other people may move in and out of palliative care as they need to.

One of the strengths of palliative care is recognition of the human side of illness, points out WebMD. A recent survey of palliative care patients showed that their most pressing needs were to be “recognized as a person,” “have a choice and remain in control,” “be connected to family and the outside world,” “be spiritually connected,” and “be in physical comfort.”

Why Palliative Care May be Right

As the caregiver or loved one of a senior, you may wonder if palliative care is the right choice — or at least the right choice right now. You may be confused between hospice and palliative care. Both serve distinct purposes in one’s life journey. Hospice care is usually for those with terminal illness who do not wish to continue seeking curative efforts. It’s usually reserved for the last six months of life. But unlike hospice care, palliative care has no time frame. It can address a short-term need, such as for patients undergoing cancer treatment and who need comfort support. So, if your loved one has a disease that could be cured, or at least has a disease or condition that can be managed, this may be a good option for them.

Other times, palliative care can serve a long-term need for patients who will have to cope with their diseases for the rest of their lives. Palliative care benefits not just patients, but their loved ones too who often find solace and comfort knowing the senior’s suffering is being properly managed, says Very Well Health.

Making the Decision

There are many factors that go into the decision to begin palliative care. The decision should involve a discussion with your loved one’s health care team, as they can offer information about options and available support. You may want to ask these questions to help determine when palliative care should be the next step:

  • What options are available for treatment? The timing of palliative care will be determined by the illness and its treatment.
  • What does your loved one want? The patient’s wishes should come into play. What options do they face (surgery, chemotherapy, etc.) and do they want to continue to explore them?
  • What options are available for palliative care or symptom control? This will depend on palliative care providers in your area. Sometimes, palliative care can be used for a few months before entering into hospice, while others may depend on palliative care alone for a few years.
  • What is the nature and the illness and its course? Is the illness terminal? Is there a cure? Does the patient even want to pursue one?

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our palliative care team can help you make those difficult decisions for your loved one. Contact us today at 888-755-7855 to learn more about what we offer. A doctor who specializes in symptom control will oversee palliative care in conjunction with your physician. Additionally, your loved one will get access to a visiting nurse, social worker, volunteer visitor and spiritual care counselor. We have a pharmacist who reviews medications as well as an on-call nurse who is available 24/7.