Approximately 6 million Americans living with serious, life-limiting conditions today could benefit from palliative care. And the number of seriously ill people who could experience relief from such comfort care is expected to increase exponentially over the next 25 years as baby boomers age.
At its core, palliative care is about providing comfort and confidence to patients navigating treatment for a wide range of debilitating conditions. Specially-trained physicians and nurse practitioners help patients maintain more control over their care by helping them understand treatment options and matching their personal healthcare goals to those options.
Palliative care offers relief from such symptoms as pain, anxiety and depression, nausea, constipation, fatigue, shortness of breath, insomnia, decreased appetite and stress. With symptoms under control, patients gain the strength to continue with daily life and better tolerate medical intervention.
The benefits of palliative care resonate with anyone who has experienced or witnessed the deteriorating effects of a life-limiting illness. It’s most beneficial for those living with active cancer, heart failure, Dementia, kidney failure, COPD, Parkinson’s, severe stroke or any other life-limiting illness, especially those that require difficult treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. Palliative care is covered by many insurance plans like a doctor’s office visit, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Mrs. C is among the countless people who’ve benefited from palliative care. She enjoyed good health for nearly a century and lived independently with few medications. She was as active and self-reliant as anyone – until she developed severe circulation problems in her legs that put her at risk of losing a foot. Escalating pain interfered with Mrs. C’s sleep and worsened her mood to the point of severe distress. Embarrassed by her condition, she became more isolated, antisocial and resistant to medication.
Mrs. C and her family turned to Hospice of Michigan’s palliative care team, whose nurse practitioner evaluated her goals and wishes and prescribed medical interventions for her pain. The extra layer of support that palliative care provided Mrs. C. made a difference in her quality of life. Not only did her palliative care nurse practitioner work with her existing healthcare team and primary care doctor to manage her distressing symptoms, the support gave the family confidence in navigating the health care system.
Mrs. C and her nurse practitioner bonded as she started medications which relieved her pain, improved her sleep and elevated her mood. She began living more comfortably and with less stress. The nurse practitioner also provided support to her family, helping them cope as caregivers.
As her condition progressed and curative treatment became ineffective, Mrs. C, along with her family and primary care physician, made the decision to transition her to hospice, which brought expanded services to the home. Mrs. C passed away in comfort.
While both palliative and hospice care focus on providing comfort, palliative care serves people with a life-limiting illness who are not physically or emotionally ready for hospice. Hospice care begins when curative treatment ceases and is only provided to those a physician certifies as having a life expectancy of six months or fewer if the illness runs its normal course.
“Patients and families can often be lost in the healthcare system as serious illness progresses, said Donna Pomaville, FNP-BC, ACHPN, a certified palliative care nurse practitioner, who also serves as the Director of Palliative care at Hospice of Michigan. “Palliative care brings relief and guidance as they navigate the choices available to them so they can optimize their quality of life.”
For the 6 million Americans struggling with serious illness, palliative care is a lifeline that can calm the storm of pain and help navigate the sea of treatment options, setting the course for a better quality of life.
(Hospice of Michigan currently offers palliative medicine house calls in southeast Michigan and 24/7 nurse navigation support statewide. For more information, visit www.hom.org or call 888-247-5701.)