Navigating the illness of a loved one is never an easy thing. While death is an inevitability in this world and to be expected in life, it is an experience that can be extremely taxing, physically, spiritually and emotionally on a family or those that give care.
Palliative care and hospice are often referred to interchangeably. However, there are key differences. While both services aim to provide comfort and relief, here’s a bit more on what you need to know regarding the categorizations of help when a loved one is facing serious illness and/or pain.
Palliative care programs concentrate on serious conditions that fall into non-life threatening or long-term categories.
For example, certain cancers, AIDS, kidney disease, or due to the side effects of other treatments that deeply impact an individual’s capability to function due to nausea, depression, lack of mobility, concentration, energy levels or pain but who have life expectancies beyond six months, often turn to palliative care for assistance and relief. This form of care aims to support as active of a life as possible even when an illness or condition is anticipated to be fatal. It is a form of medical treatment that focuses on managing pain and symptoms.
Similar to palliative care, hospice services aim to provide support and resources for individuals living near end-of-life or those that have a terminal disease.
Hospice is available for those that are given a prognostic life expectancy of six months or less. It’s a type of care specifically for individuals who are ready to shift from cure-focused treatment to that of maintaining comfort and minimizing pain. Regardless of age, hospice is a flexibility benefit that assembles an interdisciplinary medical team to provide care across spiritual, psychosocial and physical needs.
Most often hospice is provided at home through a combination of doctors and nurses, social workers and other healthcare professionals who maintain a concentrated focus to care for the individual as a whole, and not just their disease.
Hospice and palliative services serve similar functions but are not the same thing. Illustrative situations for how to know which care is right for your situation include:
– For individuals who are receiving treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy to slow, stop or cure cancer but who have more than six months to live
– For cancer patients who have completed treatment but are still experiencing side effects or lingering symptoms
– For individuals that experience long-term pain and discomfort stemming from chronic conditions or those with periodic symptoms
– For individuals who desire to focus on the quality of their life instead of on their terminal illness
– For individuals with a six month or less life expectancy. It should be noted that often individuals do live longer.
What Palliative Care is Appropriate For
While far from exhausting, several of the most common illness for which individuals seek palliative treatment include:
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Disease
- Chronic Liver Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Renal Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
From the conditions listed above, several of the symptoms that cause individuals to turn to palliative care include:
- Emotional distress
- Sleep issues
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
Finding Palliative Care
Once you decide that palliative care is most applicable to the needs of your loved one, how do you go about finding the services you desire? Beyond doing an internet search for “Palliative care need me,” there are a few resources we recommend starting with.
First, talking with any current medical care team can really illuminate a clear path forward and facilitate the connection to palliative care professionals including the following:
- Social Workers – Often social workers can help with the smaller everyday challenges and tasks such as assisting in finding rides to and from medical offices and appointments or even in aiding in the processing of a new diagnosis.
- Psychologists – Trained professional mental help specialists such as psychologists or other counselors can provide aid to the individual at the center of care, in addition to other family members as needed.
- Chaplain – When it comes to dealing with life and death questions, a spiritual advisor may be able to provide support navigating the doubts, fears and unknowns that lie ahead.
- Nutritionist- Depending on the circumstances, a nutritional specialist may be able to provide guidance on dietary measures to support health objectives.
- Physical Therapists- Similar to the above, a physical therapist may be helpful in a palliative service environment to encourage prescribed activities to sustain physical engagement and contribute to overall better well being and mobility.
Costs of Palliative Care
Certain palliative care services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies. While a less direct, often more difficult financial road to understand than hospice benefits, it’s a best practice to contact an insurance company to discuss copays and deductibles in full for transparent understanding of the costs involved.
If you’d like more information, get in touch with our team today.