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What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

Improves Quality of Life

Palliative care teams specialize in treating people suffering from the symptoms and stress of serious illnesses such as cancer, congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and many more. This type of care treats pain, depression, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and any other symptoms that may be causing distress.

The team will help you gain the strength to carry on with daily life. In short, palliative care will help improve your quality of life.

Palliative Treatment

Palliative treatment is designed to relieve symptoms, and improve your quality of life. It can be used at any stage of an illness if there are troubling symptoms, such as pain or sickness.

It can also be used to reduce or control the side effects of cancer treatments. In advanced cancer, palliative treatment might help someone to live longer and to live comfortably, even if they cannot be cured.

The treatment is not limited to painkillers and anti sickness drugs. Cancer treatments can also reduce or get rid of symptoms. For example, they can help to reduce pain by shrinking a tumour and reducing pressure on nerves or surrounding tissues. Treatments used in this way include

Quality of Life

When it comes to quality of life, each patient has his or her own vision.

"Each suffering is unique. Each individual is unique, and each family and the dynamics are unique," Chan says.

"There is no generalization and that's the key," Meier says. "Palliative care is genuinely patient-centered, meaning: We ask the patient what's important to them and what their major priorities are. Based on what the patients or the family tell us, we then develop a care plan and a strategy that meets the patient's goals and values."

For some people, Meier says, the goal or value might be to live as long as possible -- no matter what the quality.

"Maybe one in 10 to one in 20 patients don't care if they're on a ventilator and on dialysis for the rest of their life. They're waiting for a miracle and that's what they want," she says. "They understand the odds and that's their choice. And then we will do everything in our power to make sure that their goals are respected and adhered to."

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