Hospice and palliative care organisations across the country have made an incredible difference in the lives and the last days of millions of people and their families. Simply put, palliative care is focused on the relief of a patient's pain, rather than curing the underlying illness. It is not an attempt to prolong life or to bring about death. Palliative care can be provided along with curative procedures, or in the case of hospice, without those efforts for a person with a life-limiting condition and a prognosis of only months to live.
Palliative care began as a way of treating terminally ill cancer patients, but soon grew to encompass care for patients suffering from any life-limiting condition. Before hospice and palliative care took root in this country, the dominant focus of treatment for the terminally ill was the preservation and prolongation of life at any cost. Many people who had little hope of living more than weeks or months were subjected to extraordinary and intrusive procedures in an attempt to keep them alive for even a little bit longer. An unintended consequence of this focus on treatment was a loss in the quality of life for many patients who died in pain or unconscious in hospitals, rather than in a coherent and pain-free state in the presence of their families.
Throughout the ages, most people have been able to die in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. In the mid to late 20th century, this changed as treatment focused on prolonging life at all costs. More and more people ended up dying, often against their own wishes, in the cold and institutional environments of hospitals. One of the most significant ways that the palliative care movement has helped patients and their families, is advocating for the right of patients to choose where they spent their last days, allowing the terminally ill to once again have the option of dying at home.
Although this option remains a priority for palliative care organisations, care is available in a variety of settings. In addition to in-home skilled nursing care, palliative care is available in nursing homes, hospitals, and inpatient palliative care facilities. Some organisations supplement in-home care with periods of facility-based care to provide respite for caregivers. This service allows for caregivers to recharge and enables them to continue to care for the patient at home for a longer time. Generally, the services provided to palliative care patients includes nursing care, physician care, 24 hour on-call assistance, medical social services, spiritual support, trained volunteers, and bereavement services for patients in any treatment setting, as well as home care aids, and limited 24 hour continuous care for patients at home.
Many see in-home care to be a far preferable experience for the patient. Palliative Care in each state is funded by the State Governments and assistance can be provided through the relevant Palliative Care organisation in each State.
Typically, patients with a physician's diagnosis of a terminal illness and a prognosis of living for only a short period of time are eligible for palliative care. Some States have varying degrees of support depending on the period of life expectancy and the overall health of the patient. Palliative care is available to the terminally ill no matter what their age. If you or your loved one fits this description, discuss your options with your physician.
Many patients and their family members remark that they wish they had contacted their palliative care provider earlier, and providers encourage people to call as soon as they are diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. Often, the quality of life experienced by the patient and the family can be meaningfully improved, and their ability to maintain care at home prolonged because of an early call to palliative care.
Patients with life-limiting conditions have more options today than ever before, including the opportunity to spend their last days in a lucid, pain managed and comforted environment. The ability to spend these precious days interacting with their families and friends in a meaningful way has had a wonderful effect on their experience and that of those close to them. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, talk with your physician about all the options for your care, including hospice.