Planning for palliative care services is an important step in the continuum of care for someone with a serious illness. Family members caring for the ill loved one often face high levels of stress, as do the patient and others in their support system of friends and family. Palliative care seeks to reduce that stress for everyone involved in the care team, minimize symptoms and enhance the patient’s overall quality of life.
The Center to Advance Palliative Care estimates that palliative care services could help up to six million Americans with serious illnesses. Working with an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers and care aides can enhance the effectiveness of other treatments the patient is receiving and even significantly extend the patient’s lifespan. As you seek to create the best care plan for your loved one, consider the following reasons why seeking at-home palliative care could be in the best interest of your entire household.
1. Wider access to dedicated professionals
“Hospice doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplains are specialized in supporting people” through the entire palliative care process, says Anna Bradshaw, a licensed clinical social worker, hospice chaplain and founder of the Feel Better Group. “They have the knowledge, resources and passion for this work.”
This can lighten your load by bringing all of the experience these professionals have right into your own home to care for your loved one, rather than requiring you to balance exhausting appointments, intensive research and the often overwhelming task of being a family caregiver.
2. Pain management is handled appropriately
One of the main concerns patients and their loved ones express during a battle with a serious illness is how pain will be managed. This can be especially worrisome when the patient is being cared for at home instead of in a hospital setting, and access to pain medication can seem cumbersome or even impossible as pharmacies face greater regulations in the dispensation of opioids.
Bradshaw provides this assurance: “Palliative care doctors are practiced in helping people to be comfortable.” And while you may also be plagued with worry that your loved one could become addicted, this too is something palliative care doctors can help prevent.
3. A focus on both quality and quantity of life
Bradshaw says that while palliative and hospice care are not curative, the care provided can help patients feel very best, comfortable in their environment and relatively pain-free. So while palliative care cannot reverse the serious illness being battled, it can go a long way toward improving the patient’s quality of life and even add time to that life.
The group Bradshaw worked with liked the motto “adding days to life” because that’s exactly what quality palliative care can provide for some patients and their families, she says.
4. The whole household’s needs are balanced
Providing at-home care for a loved one is costly in time, energy and dollars. Many times, the needs of all members of the household suffer in order to meet the needs of the patient. It shouldn’t have to be that way — both the patient and their loved ones should be able to live their best lives together in comfort and peace.
Roland Hines, a sales professional in the home health field, posits that in-home care provides the patient with familiarity and higher levels of comfort than can be offered in a care facility, while saving time for the whole family. “It’s stressful on the family to maintain a balance, caring for the loved one, working and dealing with the needs of the immediate family,” he says. Palliative care can help maintain that balance.
5. Customized and consistent care
Within most care facilities, patients do receive the best possible quality of care possible, but they also have very little control over their surroundings, the amenities offered and the staff they routinely interact with.
Hines touts “the ability to customize the level of care” offered by a palliative care team in an at-home setting, including access to “consistent staff to reduce anxiety and offer accountability” while letting the patient have food, music, television and other creature comforts set up exactly as they want.
6. Daily support at lower costs
Billie Whitehurst, senior vice president of extended care solutions with Change Healthcare, is an expert in the benefits offered by palliative care to patients who want to remain at home. She notes that in-home palliative care becomes part of the daily routine, making it more easily accepted and beneficial than dealing with sporadic or recurring medical appointments outside the home.
Plus, study outcomes have shown that at-home care is the least expensive care model, she notes. And fewer worries about the cost of care can further improve quality of life for your whole family, including your seriously ill loved one.
7. Enhanced relationships and preserved dignity
The stress of a lengthy illness can take an enormous toll on the whole family, straining relationships and reducing the patient’s sense of dignity. Lannette Cornell Bloom, a registered nurse who learned about palliative care resources firsthand while caring for her dying mother at home, shares that the process “allowed us to slow down and experience so many unexpected, joyful moments during such a hard time.”
In her book, “Memories in Dragonflies, Simple Lessons for Mindful Dying,” Bloom writes, “With palliative care, there is beauty to be found in the dying process.”
8. Longer-term support
Palliative care services can begin when a serious diagnosis is first made, instead of waiting, as hospice services do, until a patient is facing imminent death.
Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine and member of the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care’s Board of Directors, offers this final nugget of advice: “Palliative care means you can live as well as possible for as long as possible. It’s one of the very best parts of our healthcare system. I highly recommend looking into it.”
Tiffany Aller is a freelance writer, civil servant and ministry professional with a background in healthcare, real estate and human resource management. She and her young children make their home in north Texas where they enjoy chasing Pokemon, geocaching, their million-and-one pets and immersing themselves in their great community.