Palliative care is defined as “relieving or soothing the symptoms of a disease or disorder.” Many people mistakenly believe this means you receive palliative care only when you can’t be cured. Actually, palliative medicine can be provided by one doctor while other doctors work with you to try to cure your illness. Palliative care is for people of any age, and at any stage in an illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic or life-threatening. Palliative care may actually help you recover from your illness by relieving symptoms such as pain, anxiety or loss of appetite, as you undergo sometimes-difficult medical treatments or procedures, such as surgery or chemotherapy.
The overall goal of palliative care is to improve your quality of life while you are ill and can be provided at a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility or at your home. Palliative care is provided by a team, including a palliative doctor, nurses and other professionals. The palliative team:
- Provides relief from pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.
- Assists you in making difficult medical decisions.
- Coordinates care with your other doctors and helps you navigate the often-complex health care system.
- Guides you in making a plan for living well, based on your needs, concerns and goals for care.
- Provides you and your loved ones emotional and spiritual support and guidance.
There is a specific type of palliative care – called hospice – for people for whom a cure is no longer possible and who likely have six months or less to live. Hospice care can be provided at your home, at a hospice facility, a hospital or a nursing home. Hospice care is about giving you control, dignity and comfort so you have the best possible quality of life during the time you have. Hospice care also provides support and grief therapy for your loved ones.
Palliative doctors are specially trained in palliative medicine. They may provide palliative medicine through a hospital, through a hospice program or both, and head up a team of medical and non-medical professionals and volunteers who provide palliative care.