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Blog: Stories and Insight

What Does It Mean to Be in Palliative Care?



If you are considering palliative treatment for yourself or a loved one, you may be wondering what it means to be in palliative care. In simplest terms, it means that you have an option to enjoy life and focus on healing comfortPalliative care does not mean dying– it means improving the quality of life for people of any age at any stage of a serious illness. Read on to learn more about what it really means to be in palliative care.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is “quality of life care” – it provides an extra layer of support for people living with any serious illness and puts you, the patient, in control of your healthcare.

The goal of palliative care is to enhance your health and well-being as you face a life-threatening illness. Palliative care addresses pain, symptoms, and reduces the irritating or sometimes painful side effects of various treatments. It can even include psychosocial support to you and your family.

Being in palliative care means you have an expert team of caregivers. This team includes:

  • Board-certified, palliative-trained physicians
  • Advanced nurse practitioners
  • Social workers
  • Care coordinators.

These South Jersey professionals work together with you and your family to provide a coordinated approach to your care, including improving your symptoms and empowering you to understand and plan for treatment options.

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance may cover palliative care. Military veterans are usually eligible for palliative care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Who is Right for Palliative Care?

Senior adult man and home healthcare nursePeople who need support for a serious illness are right for palliative care. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, most adults who utilize palliative care  do so to treat cardiovascular disease (38.5%). Other diseases that cause symptoms that can be alleviated by palliative care include:

  • Cancer
  • COPD
  • Kidney failure
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Lupus
  • Alzheimer’s diseases
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Much of the confusion surrounding palliative care stems from the fact that it’s relatively new medical term– it wasn’t until 1990 that the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized palliative care to mean “a distinct specialty dedicated to relieving suffering and improving quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses or serious injuries,” according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Although it was only made a specialty recently, the idea of palliative care has existed as long as medicine.  

The term palliative comes from the Latin word “pallium,” meaning cloak. The idea behind palliative care is that it “cloaks” or covers the symptoms of illness without necessarily curing that illness. Today, palliative care exists separately from curative medicine, which aims to cure a disease, although it complements curative treatments by treating, or “cloaking,” the symptoms of those diseases.

Pain is typically the most common symptom that makes someone right for palliative care. Other symptoms that can be treated include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Palliative care does not have to be provided in a hospital. Most palliative care providers, including our South Jersey palliative care program, can offer services in a doctor’s office or through another outpatient setting.

What does Palliative Care Mean for My Healthcare Goals?

Nurse caring about senior woman in wheelchairPalliative care is always guided by your wishes. Incorporating your goals for your health and future is of paramount importance to your palliative care team. Being in palliative care means, specialists help you understand your treatment options, and then help you express and document your goals of care. The team is guided by your goals, aligning treatment plans to honor your values, wishes, and preferences.

 When is the Right Time to Receive Palliative Care?

  You may think you need to wait until you receive a terminal diagnosis to begin palliative care, but the truth is that’s not what palliative care means! You can opt to receive it at any point in your illness – and the sooner the better. Palliative care can be an important tool for you to gain strength so you can carry on with daily life as you work through your illness. It can also help you improve your tolerance for medical treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, which can be extremely taxing on your body.  

If you’re unsure about when to start palliative care and you think it may be right for you or a loved one, bring it up to your physician. Chances are your doctor is so focused on treating your illness that they haven’t stopped to think about treating the symptoms of that illness. It’s important for patients and their loved ones to act as their own healthcare advocate.

 So, What Does it Mean to be in Palliative Care?

The benefits of receiving palliative care are hard to quantify, but they are numerous. Palliative care means you have the strength to celebrate the holidays with family, even while being treated for a serious illness. It means you feel stronger, allowing you to reach your next birthday. It means you can embrace all the moments life has to offer.

If you or a loved one has a life-limiting illness in South Jersey, or you have questions such as “What does it mean to be in palliative care?” please contact Samaritan to learn how we can help. Call us 24/7 at (855) 337-2808.