What is Palliative Care?
By: Alicia, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fatou Yeli Kourouma, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief
Although some may consider palliative care as an end-of-life treatment regime, that is not always the case. Palliative care is a type of medical care that provides symptom-relieving services to people suffering from a terminal illness. It is provided by a trained team of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. These professionals undergo extensive training on how to care for a patient’s personal needs, regardless of their prognosis or diagnosis, before beginning to treat patients.
Since palliative care is a specialized form of medical care, it is only offered to certain individuals. The aim of palliative care is to relieve stress and suffering from painful symptoms and improve one’s life. Even though palliative care is only offered in specific situations, it is not exclusively an end-of-life care option. Palliative care can be provided in a multitude of locations, such as a hospital, a nursing home, a clinic, at home, or a specialized location. It is vital to remember that palliative care does not aim to cure the disease, rather, palliative care focuses on alleviating the symptoms that occur with the illness.
Palliative care is similar to hospice care, but the two have their differences. As per the National Institute on Aging, hospice care is a form of care that “focuses on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a person with a serious illness who is approaching the end of life.” When administering hospice care, the person receiving the care acknowledges that their condition cannot be treated medically, or that they want to withhold treatment for their condition. In this scenario, the patient would choose hospice care. On the other hand, according to the National Institute on Aging, palliative care is “specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure.” Palliative care improves the patient’s quality of life and can be administered at any stage of their disease, however, it is most effective when offered early. Hospice care is mainly comfort care and is offered after all medical care has been turned down or deemed ineffective. When medical professionals provide hospice care, they stop all attempts to cure the patient’s illness, and, instead, focus on keeping them comfortable.
Palliative care can heavily benefit those who choose to undergo it. As per the Mayo Clinic, extensive research has shown that “early use of palliative care services can improve the quality of life for patients with serious illness, decrease depression and anxiety, increase patient and family satisfaction with care, and, in some cases, even extend survival.” Palliative care is a form of care that emphasizes patient comfort and support levels, while still maximizing the patients’ quality of life through medical treatment. Some symptoms that may be improved through palliative care include pain, nausea, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Those who receive palliative care will, on most occasions, receive a personalized care plan that details the steps toward providing them a better quality of life and lessening their symptoms.
Even though palliative care is crucial for one’s quality of life and symptom relief, a multitude of individuals who need palliative care do not have access to it. According to the World Health Organization, “each year, an estimated 40 million people are in need of palliative care; 78% of them live in low- and middle-income countries.” Palliative care is not readily available for those who need it, but this is not an issue limited to low and middle-income countries. As per the World Health Organization, “worldwide, only about 14% of people who need palliative care currently receive it.” Currently, individuals from certain countries and certain areas of the world are unable to have access to necessary palliative care. Palliative care is vital to those who need it since this type of care treats both physiological and psychological symptoms of an illness by alleviating the symptoms through medication. If you or someone you know is considering palliative care, speak to a licensed medical professional as soon as possible.
If one is looking to help bridge this disparity, one must first educate themselves on palliative care. Learning more about a type of care in healthcare that is not readily available for a large population of individuals is important when coming up to a conclusion as to whether or not this type of care is a viable option. Regardless, palliative care is an important, yet often overlooked, type of treatment under the healthcare spectrum, and it is extremely worthwhile to research and learn more about this form of care.