People who have life-threatening illnesses, and their families, might find that the illness itself is made worse by a host of painful emotions, including fear, anxiety, worry, grief, guilt, denial, anger, and many others. These emotions, as well as other important considerations such as a person’s mental health and spiritual needs, aren’t often addressed by traditional medicine. In situations like these, palliative care can step in to improve quality of life and provide help and guidance to the patient and their family.
What is palliative care?
A dictionary definition of ‘palliative’ refers to a remedy that doesn’t treat the underlying cause. This is true in the sense that palliative care itself does not cure a disease, but seeks to relieve its physical, mental, emotional and psychosocial symptoms. For example, a person who is diagnosed with terminal cancer may decide to continue surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments while separately and simultaneously taking advantage of a palliative care plan to address his or her other issues around managing the disease. Or that same patient may decide against undergoing further medical treatment and just focus on pain management and the other benefits of palliative care. The decision is a very personal one.
Some myths about palliative care
If you or a loved one has a serious illness, you may have already thought about palliative care, but some questions and concerns probably remain. Not all doctors like to talk about palliative care because they are trained to focus on providing disease treatment, so it may be up to you to find out the truth about palliative care.
Myth: You have to go to a hospice to receive palliative care.
Truth: Palliative care in Toronto can be based in the home, in a hospital setting, in a nursing home or in a hospice.
Myth: You have to stop all medical treatment in order to receive palliative care.
Truth: Palliative care is NOT a replacement for medical treatment but rather, it can support patients and families whether or not they are pursuing medical treatment.
Myth: Palliative care is obtained when a patient is about to die.
Truth: A patient can receive palliative care to relieve pain and symptoms and improve quality of life at any time during a serious illness.
Myth: Palliative care is essentially pain relief for when other measures fail.
Truth: Palliative care is so much more than pain relief. It’s coordinated, holistic care that covers a patient’s emotional, spiritual and physical needs.
Palliative Care in Hospice
Palliative care usually involves a multidisciplinary team that can include doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, religious leaders and many more professional health and wellness specialists, and it can come into play at any stage of a serious illness. This makes it different from hospice care, which is available only at the end of life when other treatment options have ceased. Palliative care is an important part of a hospice’s offerings, because at this stage, perhaps more than at any other, a patient must come to terms with their illness and cope with the realities of the end of life – and may need help doing so.
Palliative care in hospice can address such issues as:
-Physical comfort, including relief from associated side effects of pain medications
-Spiritual and psychological comfort and care
-Communication, education and liaison with other health care professionals and family members
-Dignity and quality of life issues for both the patient and family members
-Bereavement counselling for families
-Final planning support
In a supportive hospice environment, palliative care can help patients live as actively as possible for the time that remains. For more information on whether hospice palliative care may be right for your situation, please visit Hospice Palliative Care Ontario.