Palliative care or “end of life care” is an approach to care that is meant to ensure that the remainder of life is spent in dignified and comfortable surroundings; if possible, this is done in the patient’s home. Palliative care is not meant to advance or to delay natural death. Rather, palliative care provides support to those who are terminally ill and to their families and loved ones. Role of palliative care providers include the following:
- to address physical needs, pain management and physical care
- to provide psychological, social, spiritual, practical and emotional support
- to provide support such as respite care for caregivers
- to assist the family in dealing with the grieving process
Palliative care support is provided by teams of personnel including doctors, nurses, personal support workers, volunteers, friends, family and spiritual counselor. Palliative care can be provided at home, in a hospital, a nursing home or a hospice facility. Most palliative care programs are charitable, non-profit groups that provide their services at no cost to the family.
“Where will I go? Who will take care of me when the hospital can’t do anything more?” Questions such as these indicate that a person is at the point in life where medical intervention cannot cure the disease and where the quality of remaining life becomes the focus. At this point, you and your family may be asked to decide if palliative care is the best choice for your loved one in the coming months. Quality of remaining life is the key objective of palliative care. The focus of planning will be on ensuring that the person nearing death is cared for with respect, dignity and comfort.
Most people do not enter into a palliative care program until they are facing the expected few and final months of life. The decision to enter palliative care should be made jointly with a medical team, family members and healthcare providers. Most of all, the patient should be involved in the discussion and advance planning so that end-of-life issues can be addressed as effectively as possible. Communities will differ in local resources. To find out what palliative care options are available in your community, consult your doctor, healthcare professional or funeral director.
Times of stress require decisions to be made. When life is limited, decisions must be made with strength and compassion. The decision to access a program of palliative care may be the best gift that you can give to your loved one and to your family.