All about Palliative Care

15 March, 2020
Severe chronic diseases significantly affect the quality of life of patients and those around them. Palliative care is a form of care that helps make sure this has the less impact.

All patients with serious illnesses can benefit from palliative care. Its main goal, therefore, is to provide support and relief to those who are suffering from severe health problems that can lead to death in the short or medium term.

It’s proven that palliative care significantly improves the quality of life of seriously ill patients and their families. Nevertheless, it’s estimated that only 14% of people that require this type of care receive it effectively.

Never in the history of mankind has more palliative care been required than now. This is because medical advances have extended life expectancy. Therefore, the survival rate of people with chronic diseases has increased. Thus, many people don’t immediately die from their illness, but many suffer from the effects of it.

What palliative care consists of

A doctor talking to a patient in bed.

Palliative care is an area of medicine that’s responsible for preventing and relieving the suffering of seriously ill patients and also providing a greater quality of life for these patients and their families. Some people who suffer from life-threatening diseases require them.

The main goals of this care are:

Palliative care covers a wide range of diseases. Those who are in a severe stage of a disease and those who aren’t receiving conventional treatment due to their condition can benefit from it. Also, those who’ve responded poorly to established treatments.

What palliative care consists of

A severe chronic disease is a condition that affects multiple dimensions of the patient and their family’s lives. Palliative care seeks to provide an answer to:

  • Physical problems
  • Practical issues
  • Psychosocial aspects
  • The spiritual realm

Physical problems usually include pain, trouble breathing, sleeping problems, and digestive disorders. These problems are usually addressed with medication, physiotherapy, nutritional counseling, and occupational therapy.

In these cases, there are usually a number of practical problems mainly related to resource availability. When we talk about resources, we’re referring to financial resources or the tools needed to ensure the patient and their family’s wellness.

Serious diseases also require psychosocial support to cope with fear, hopelessness, or denial. This support is provided mainly by counseling and support groups. Also, medical professionals must provide spiritual help to explore beliefs and values that contribute to accepting and handling the situation.

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Who should provide them and under what conditions

A terminal patient getting palliative care.

Palliative care can be provided in a hospital, in a specialized center, or at home. The patient and their family should decide which is the best choice, considering the pros and cons of each.

It’s proven that, in most cases, home care is very beneficial for sick patients. However, this option will depend on the conditions and availability of each family, as well as access to external support.

Ideally, this type of care is provided by a medical team in partnership with the patient’s family. A person with a serious illness requires a group of doctors, nurses, a physical assistant, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a social worker, a massage therapist, and a spiritual counselor.

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Aspects to consider

It’s very important that both the patient and their family know the ins and outs of the disease, treatment options, and prognosis. This will allow them to make good decisions in every step.

Not everyone in the world has access to palliative care. In high-income countries, almost all patients have them. However, in low-income countries, it’s visibly lacking. 98% of children who require such care live in poor countries.

Pessini, L., & Bertachini, L. (2006). Nuevas perspectivas en cuidados paliativos. Acta bioethica, 12(2), 231-242.