November 18, 2013

By Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA


Serious and chronic illnesses are often accompanied by pain and depression. For the older adult and their family, it can be difficult to deal with the symptoms and side effects of a serious illness. A palliative care specialist may be able to help the patient and family to reduce the effects of illness and improve quality of life.

Palliative care specialists work with patients that have serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s Disease, congestive heart failure, COPD, and Parkinson’s to name a few. It is their job to deal with the side effects of the disease, as opposed to the disease itself.

By controlling the symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, depression, pain, and loss of appetite, the older adult is able to have more control over their daily life and a higher tolerance for their medical treatments.

Palliative care services take a team approach and work with your primary care physician, nursing staff, and family members. It is an additional level of care that helps meet the patient’s needs including the emotional, spiritual, and daily living.

The Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care

When individuals think of palliative care, hospice services come to mind. There are several differences between hospice care and palliative care.

Hospice care is often provided either in a hospice center or at a patient’s home. The family typically relies on a hospice nurse and family caregiver to meet the needs of the person. Palliative care, on the other hand, is characteristically provided as part of an on-going process that moves between the hospital, nursing home, patient’s home, and palliative care units.

In order to qualify under Medicare, hospice care can only be given to terminal patients with six months or less before death. Palliative care does not require a terminal illness. In addition, hospice services normally do not include life prolonging treatment. Instead, it focuses on improving the quality of time the individual has to live, providing an opportunity for closure with loved ones, and dignity. Palliative care offers comfort to a patient whether their disease is terminal or chronic. Despite their differences, both hospice care and palliative care focus on improving the patient’s quality of life.

Caring For More Than Just the Patient

Palliative care services are also not focused solely on the patient. The palliative care team understands the important role that family members and friends play in the recovery and comfort of the patient. Part of the services offered include dealing with the emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and family. A chronic or life threatening illness can take a heavy emotional toll. The palliative care team will help reduce the stress of the family caretakers.

Costs are always a concern when it comes to medical issues. As most palliative care takes place in a hospital or nursing home, for the most part it is typically covered by insurance including Medicare and Medicaid. If payment is an issue, a palliative care team member can help determine which payment options are best for you.

Palliative care teams understand the stresses that you and your family face. The anxiety, fatigue, depression, and pain that can become part of coping with a chronic illness do not have to become the center of everyone’s attention and the focus of their energy. For an older adult with a serious or chronic disease, palliative care can add an additional layer of support and care for the patient and family members.

DOWNLOAD FREE Palliative Guide Here