Palliative Care at a Vulnerable Time

We all strive for a quality of life, but when you’re faced with a serious illness such as cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, respiratory disease, multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), quality takes on a whole new meaning.

Specialized medical care known as palliative care, places emphasis on symptoms and quality of life through pain management, physical, psychological and spiritual support. Despite common belief, palliative care is not the same as hospice care where patients no longer receive aggressive therapy and have six months or less to live. Patients may receive palliative care when an illness is diagnosed, throughout curative treatments or at the end of life.

“Palliative care helps patients and families outside of the traditional medical model,” says medical oncologist Frederic Kass, III, M.D. with Meritus Cancer Specialists.

The goal of palliative care is to help patients with serious illnesses feel better: specifically to prevent or treat symptoms and side effects of a disease and medical treatment.

With palliative care, patients can:

  • Access care at any point in an illness
  • Seek life-prolonging and curative treatment while receiving palliative care
  • Find relief for symptoms of chronic diseases such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, emotional and spiritual issues while curative treatments continue.

Hospice is a health care option for patients who are faced with a terminal illness. The Medicare hospice benefit requires that a terminally ill patient have a life expectancy of six months or less. Care is often provided in the home or a home-like setting.

With hospice care, patients can:

  • Access care at the last six months of a terminal illness
  • Receive comfort care for a terminal illness
  • Find relief for symptoms of end-stage disease such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, emotional and spiritual issues

Both care approaches incorporate a multidisciplinary team to provide symptom relief that considers the whole person: physical, emotional, spiritual or cultural. “Palliative care is a global philosophy of care that places the patient and family at the center of the team,” explains Susan Lyons, CRNP, of Meritus Medical Center’s inpatient palliative care unit.

Meritus Medical Center’s hospital-based palliative care program helps the patient and family express their wishes and goals throughout the course of a complex or serious illness and cope with the changes caused by the illness. LifeCare of Washington County, a new community palliative consultant practice, provides symptom management for patients faced with a serious illness. For more information on LifeCare, call 301-671-2171.