Palliative care is an approach to medical care that is designed to improve the quality of life for people at any stage of a life-threatening or chronic illness. The intent of this type of care is not to cure the disease, but to ease symptoms, stress and side effects before and after treatments. Oftentimes, palliative care can be offered alongside curative cancer treatments or active medical management of chronic disease. Palliative medicines don’t replace other treatments. Think of it as additional support that helps you and your family deal with things such as pain, shortness of breath, or anxiety, for example.
The palliative approach to care is delivered by a diverse team made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual health practitioners, and other specialists who work with patients and their families in order to provide an additional layer of support. Palliative care can be provided in hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient palliative care clinics, other specialized clinics, or at home. However, specialized palliative care services may not be available in your location but all health care professionals should be familiar with the palliative approach.
Outcomes of Palliative Care
For patients not receiving active medical management but only palliative care, 100% will eventually die of their underlying illness. Patients with a life-limiting illness who receive palliative care have better quality of life and spiritual well-being and less anxiety and depression, when compared to patients who do not receive palliative care. Instead of focusing primarily on the patient’s illness, palliative care acknowledges and supports the unique needs of the patient and their family that arise due to one’s illness such as caregiving, personal planning, lifestyle changes and emotional support.
- Improves quality of life
- Provides pain and symptom control
- Focuses on body, mind and spirit
- Reduces unnecessary hospital visits
- Supports the patient and their support system
- Puts the patient’s desires, goals and decisions first
- Helps patients and families understand treatment plans
- If the focus of care is still on curing the illness and gaining more quantity of life rather than ensuring the quality of life, this can lead to invasive and futile interventions which may result in an unnecessary suffering.
- In the final stages of life, palliative care may hasten death (and reduce suffering!).
Is Palliative Care right for you?
Deciding if a palliative approach to care is right for you involves discussions with your health care team who can offer information about options and available support. If you are bothered by uncontrollable physical symptoms or struggling with mood, purpose, or other emotional/psychological symptoms, asking for a palliative care consult may be right for you.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to be involved in a formal program to receive palliative care.
An option for people with a terminal illness can include Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). While both palliative care and MAiD help to relieve suffering, they each have a different approach to doing so and are often misunderstood. Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life and managing symptoms to help people live and die well, whereas MAiD aims to lessen suffering by helping an eligible person (as defined by legislation) end their life, when they request it, by administering medications. For more information on MAiD, visit Medical Assistance in Dying.