Chris Cooper and Company - Why Palliative Care Matters When You're Facing a Serious Illness: There's a widespread perception that palliative care is just like hospice care—that it's only for people in their final months of life, seeking pain management and comfort after they've exhausted treatment. While palliative care definitely serves these types of patients, it is much broader, offering ongoing, comprehensive help for anyone with a life-threatening, chronic, but not necessarily terminal, illness.
In fact, palliative medicine is so extensive that it's not uncommon for people to use it, undergo treatment, get better and no longer need it. And with an estimated 90 million people in the United States living with a serious illness—a number that is expected to double in the next 25 years as baby boomers age—the need for palliative care will likely skyrocket.
How Palliative Care Helps
With palliative care, how long a person may live is almost irrelevant; the illness itself matters. Palliative care:
Takes a holistic approach
Palliative care takes a three-pronged approach to wellness: body, mind and spirit. Many palliative care programs feature dieticians, social workers, spiritual advisors—even massage therapists. Because palliative care is designed to improve the overall quality of life, studies show that it has significant mental health and life-lengthening benefits. One study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that lung cancer patients had less depression and lived almost three months longer than patients who chose to forgo it.
Works in tandem with treatments
When undergoing treatment, from chemotherapy to surgery, patients are encouraged to seek out palliative care, regardless of predicted illness outcome. In fact, many health care providers urge patients to seek out care as soon as they get a diagnosis. One theory is that patients under stress have poorer treatment outcomes. With a palliative care approach focused on reducing stress and improving well-being, some patients become more resilient in handling treatment.
Can last for years
Most hospice care is for people who have six months or less to live. Palliative care, on the other hand, may be used for years. When patients have a serious illness, along with a disease like diabetes, they may undergo ongoing palliative care to maintain a healthy diet and control blood sugar. Some palliative patients drift in and out of care, using it when necessary, while others stay within a program throughout a long-term illness.