Last updateTue, 17 Oct 2017 5pm

Your Health

Palliative care provides relief to people with serious illnesses

When a patient’s health recently took a turn for the worse, she grew excruciatingly depressed.

“I was crying all the time, sobbing … about the state of my health,” the patient shared in a Palo Alto Medical Foundation video blog. “I alternated between asking my doctor to cure me or kill me.”

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people of all ages who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the pain, symptoms and stress that accompany these illnesses.

At the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and in other palliative-care environments, a team of doctors, nurses and specialists works with patients and their treating physicians to offer an extra layer of support. Care may be offered in a clinical setting or at a patient’s home.

Contrary to popular belief, palliative care isn’t reserved for seriously ill patients in the last few months of life. Patients can benefit from palliative care whether they have just been diagnosed or are already receiving treatment for advanced illnesses, such as neurological disease, advanced cancer, chronic lung disease and heart failure.

As a serious illness progresses, many patients need more intense care coordination and symptom management, and palliative care teams are trained to assist in these areas.

The specialized medical service of palliative care is based on a strong belief that the right support can help patients experience an improved quality of life during a serious illness. Programs are designed to provide patients and their family members with compassionate, coordinated care and assistance to help manage the patient’s illness in the best possible way.

Many people confuse hospice care with palliative care. The key differences are that palliative care may be provided at any time during a person’s illness and that palliative care can take place at the same time as curative treatment. Hospice provides palliative care, but it is always focused on patients who no longer seek treatments to cure them.

Palliative-care program objectives generally aim to:

• Empower you to manage your health.

• Help you manage your symptoms and provide comfort.

• Help you manage your medication.

• Coordinate your care.

• Help you plan for the future.

• Maximize the quality of your life.

As our patient concluded about the importance of palliative care during her poignant video blog: “You have a choice about the way you live and die, and everything that you do. (Palliative care) gave me the skills to make those choices. I stopped crying and feeling sorry for myself, because I was no longer at the mercy of life or death – I had choices.”

Dr. Sharon Tapper is medical director of palliative care at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. For more information, visit pamf.org.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and column editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly column.

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