14/04/2020 by Kim Stevens 0 Comments
What Is The Role Of Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a term often used in conjunction with‘end of life care’, and is generally thought of as the care received by a patient who isn’t going to recover from a terminal illness. While this is true to a certain extent, the role that palliative care in particular plays in a patient’s life is so much more than simply making sure someone is as comfortable and pain-free as possible.
It is a common worry that once a patient is told that they are receiving palliative care that medical professionals have ‘given up’ on them, but this is not the case. Palliative care provides treatment for patients as well as mental and emotional care and support for both them and their family and friends, often in addition to continued treatment for the illness in question. The aim of this type of care is to ensure that the patient has a good quality of life, and can remain as well and as active as possible in the time that they have left; whether that be years or days. This can involve:
- Managing pain and other physical symptoms
- Providing psychological, emotional, and even spiritual support
- Helping with basic needs such as washing or dressing
- Providing understanding and support for family and friends
Often referred to as a ‘life-limiting’ illness, terminal illness is one that cannot be cured and includes dementia and motor neurone disease as well as some types of cancer. Palliative care can be administered at any stage of a progressive illness - it doesn’t necessarily mean that a patient is nearing the end - some of those with a life-limiting illness might receive this type of care for years, as it can be used alongside other treatments and therapies such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, palliative care of course continues when a patient is nearing the end of their lives, and is then termed ‘end of life care’.
So, What’s The Difference?
End of life care is an important part of palliative care and aims to help someone suffering with a terminal illness to live as comfortably as possible. Of course the time frame of how long someone may have left is not easy to predict, and some patients may only end up receiving end of life care for a few weeks or even days. Medications and treatments for the illness may have stopped at this stage, but end of life care is not just about managing pain, it also involves talking to the patient and their loved ones about what to expect towards the end of their life, to discuss their needs and wishes to ensure they receive the kind of care they want, and can even help with the practicalities of things like making a will or getting financial support.
Is Palliative Care Always Administered In A Hospice?
Palliative care can be provided in the patient’s own home, in a care or nursing home, or in a hospice - depending on the type of life-limiting illness and what stage it is at. The professionals involved in the patient’s care, such as their GP, care workers and community nurses, will all have a hand in providing palliative care, but will refer the patient to a specialist care professional if needed.
Specialist palliative care professionals will have plenty of training and experience in this area and will manage more complex care problems. These specialists are provided either by the NHS or voluntary organisations, and are probably the ones you think of when you hear the term ‘palliative care’. Their caring role continues after the death of the terminally ill patient, offering emotional support, understanding and care to loved ones - and are often thought of as invaluable in terms of comfort to those who are recently bereaved.
To hear that a loved one is receiving ‘palliative’ or ‘end of life’ care can be scary, and all too often it is easy to assume that this is the end; but the families of those receiving such care can take comfort in knowing that the role is primarily about support and, above all, care, which is something we want for everyone we love.
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