What is Palliative Care?
The World Health Organization defines palliative care as an approach that aims to enhance the quality of life of patients (both adults and children) and their families who are dealing with problems linked to life-limiting or terminal illnesses that are typically progressive in nature. It is focused on improving the quality of life. This approach helps in the early identification, accurate evaluation, and treatment of pain and other physical, psychosocial, or spiritual problems to prevent and alleviate suffering.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 56.8 million people worldwide require palliative care at the end of life each year.
Why is Palliative Care required?
The goal of palliative care is to provide comprehensive and tailored care to support the unique needs of patients with terminal illness. This can include managing symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and nausea, as well as providing emotional and spiritual support to patients as well as their families. Palliative care also involves addressing other practical concerns such as financial and legal issues, and helping patients plan for the future better.
It is often confused with hospice care, which is a type of palliative care that is provided to people who are nearing the end of their lives. However, palliative care can be provided at any stage of a serious illness, regardless of whether or not the patient is receiving curative treatment.
Aims of Palliative Care
- Relieve pain and other symptoms
- Improve the quality of life for patients and their families
- Provide emotional and spiritual support
- Help patients to maintain their independence and dignity
- Assist patients and their families in making informed decisions about their care
- Help patients to navigate the healthcare system
- Provide support for caregivers
Providing Physical Comfort
Palliative care focuses on providing relief from pain and other distressing symptoms that are associated with serious illnesses. Physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, and shortness of breath can be managed under palliative care. Healthcare professionals use a range of interventions to manage these symptoms, including medication, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy.
Support with Practical Tasks
Palliative care provides support with practical tasks such as personal hygiene, meal preparation, and transportation. This ensures that patients and their families can focus on what matters most - spending quality time together.
Managing Emotional Needs
Serious illnesses can take a toll on a person's emotional well-being. Palliative care provides emotional support to patients and their families. Counselling, therapy, and other interventions that are aimed at helping individuals cope with their illness and the associated emotional stress can be a part of palliative care.
Coping with Grief and Finding Support
Palliative care provides support to patients and their families during the end-of-life stage. This includes helping them cope with grief and find support from others who are going through similar experiences.
Forms of Palliative Care
There are three forms of palliative care:
- Hospice care: Hospice care is provided to patients who are nearing the end of their lives. It is typically provided in the patient's home, a hospice facility, or a hospital.
- Home-based palliative care: Home-based palliative care is provided to patients who are being cared for at home. Palliative care at home involves a team of healthcare professionals who provide care in the patient's home, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists.
- Inpatient palliative care: Inpatient palliative care is provided to patients who are in a hospital or other healthcare facility. It is typically provided to patients who require more intensive care than can be provided in their home.
Read Understanding Palliative Care: Important Things You Need to Know to Learn more about the important differences between various types of care for the critically ill individuals.
When to Consider Palliative Care?
Palliative care can be accessed at any stage of a serious illness, regardless of whether or not the patient is receiving curative treatment. It is often recommended for patients who are experiencing symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and nausea, or who are having difficulty managing their symptoms. Palliative care can also be provided to patients who are nearing the end of their lives, as a form of hospice care.
Palliative care in the UK
Palliative care in the UK is an integral part of the healthcare system, with a range of services available to support patients and their families. The National Health Service (NHS) provides a range of palliative care services across the UK, including in hospitals, palliative care homes, hospices, and in the community. The NHS also funds specialist palliative care teams, which provide care and support to patients and their families in their own homes. Starting a conversation with your GP can be a good first step towards provisioning palliative care for yourself or someone in your family.
There are also a number of independent hospices and charities that provide palliative care services, such as Marie Curie and Hospice UK. These organisations work closely with the NHS to ensure that patients receive the care and support they need.
Palliative care is focused on improving the quality of life for patients with serious illnesses by managing symptoms, improving emotional well-being of the patients, and providing support for their families.
It is important to understand that palliative care is not just for patients with terminal illness, but can be given to anyone with a serious illness, regardless of the prognosis. Considering palliative care does not mean giving up on treatment, but rather working alongside other medical treatments to improve the patient's quality of life.
If you or a loved one is living with a serious illness, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits of palliative care and if it is right for you. With the right care and support, patients can live as comfortably and fully as possible, even in the face of serious illness.