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How to care for patients in palliative care

June 14, 2017 / Anitha Arockiasamy, President, IHHC

It’s a common question: What is palliative care? Put simply, Palliative care is a specialized form of medical treatment that focusses on offering relief from the pain, symptoms and stress of serious injury or operation. Palliative care is also meant for people suffering from a terminal illness where a cure is not always possible and for those who have suffered, or are suffering, a complicated illness and need their symptoms controlled. This type of care is also provided for seriously ill patients who can no longer hope for a cure and need to be kept comfortable and as pain-free as possible during the remaining days of his or her life. Palliative care also includes caring for people who are nearing the end of their lives. In such cases, it’s also called end of life care.

The goal of providing this treatment is to improve the patient’s quality of life. Palliative care sets out to treat or manage pain and other physical symptoms. Typically, it will also help with any psychological, social or spiritual needs. The objective of palliative care is to help the patient, and everyone affected by the patient’s illness, to achieve the best quality of life. The patient could receive palliative care along with other illness related treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Though, sometimes, palliative care can be provided in the patient’s home, it still needs the ministrations and treatment afforded by highly skilled and specially trained doctors, nursing staff and other specialists who work in tandem with the patient’s usual doctors, to give an additional layer of support to the patient and his family. Palliative care is relevant and appropriate, regardless of age and stage of treatment, and can be offered along with remedial treatment.

Generally speaking, palliative care is offered to people suffering or recovering from serious illnesses such a cancer, congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD), kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) amongst many others. The palliative care offered in these situations treats pain, depression, breathing difficulty, tiredness, constipation, nausea, lack of appetite, sleeping problems, anxiety and other distressing symptoms. The palliative care provided gives the patient the strength and fortitude to carry on with daily life – in a better frame of mind and body.
Ideally speaking, the palliative care team should work together with the patient, his or her family and the patient’s other doctors. And, along with treating the symptoms of the condition, the palliative care team should also spend time communicating with the patient and his or her family. The palliative care team is vested in providing help, support and care – every step of the way.

To sum up, palliative care does the following:

  • Improves the quality of life
  • Offers relief from pain and other disturbing symptoms
  • Supports life but considers dying as inevitable
  • Doesn’t hasten or delay death
  • Combines psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of care
  • Provides a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
  • Provides a support system to the family
  • Can be applied to the earlier stages of an illness, along with other treatment that is aimed at prolonging life
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