As a result of aging, older adults often experience a variety of illnesses that cause them pain and a great deal of discomfort. While these may be caused by underlying medical issues, advanced age also significantly aggravates the symptoms. What’s worse is that medical treatments are often the least preferred option, as they can affect the health more harshly in older people, causing significant side effects that can only make the condition worse.
A solution to this is what we call palliative care. Recognized as a subspecialty in medicine in 2006, palliative care is a specialization fit for patients who suffer from a serious illness. It aims to optimize their quality of life by treating and preventing suffering as much as possible, which is what many chronically ill adults need.
The Focus of Palliative Care
Palliative care focuses on alleviating symptoms among chronically ill or elderly patients so they may be able to tolerate medical treatments and recover from their illness. Debilitating symptoms such as pain, depression, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, nausea, and loss of appetite, are commonly addressed by palliative care. Palliative caregivers often assist patients who suffer from chronic conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and congestive heart failure.
Palliative Care vs. Hospice
While both palliative care and hospice care aim to provide comfort to patients, they have some notable differences. Palliative care can be delivered at diagnosis and during treatment. Meanwhile, hospice care should begin right after treatment of the disease has been exhausted and it is confirmed by a doctor that the patient is not going to survive the illness, particularly having only at most 6 months left to live.
Benefits of Palliative Care
Aside from the relief of pain and discomfort, patients or caregivers may seek palliative care for its various benefits. For one, this type of care gives patients more involvement in their disease, as they will be included in discussions regarding symptom management and treatment options. It also aims to improve communication between seniors and their health care providers as well as to improve coordination of care between the patient, family, and the healthcare team.
While the alleviation of symptoms is a physical thing, palliative care also delves on the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of patients’ and their caregivers’ lives. Caring for a sick family member can be emotionally draining for both patients and families, leading to anxiety, hopelessness, or even depression. With a palliative care team, both parties can consider joining support groups, counseling, and consultations with mental health providers.
The Palliative Care Team
A palliative care team usually consists of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers, psychiatrists, counselors, and massage therapists. For patients who are suffering from anxiety and depression, they are usually given anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants. This may be paired with psychotherapy interventions such as relaxation and coping techniques.
For the relief of physical pain, palliative care doctors usually administer morphine or other opiates like oxycodone or hydrocodone. To provide appropriate palliative interventions, healthcare providers continue to monitor their patients’ baseline health parameters, such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation, which is measured using a Nellcor DS-100a pulse oximeter.
To aid in one’s spiritual journey, the team can call on ministers and chaplains to address the concept of faith, death, and the afterlife, as well as to discuss any feelings of remorse or disappointment, if any.
Healthcare deals with actual lives, and lives go beyond the physical. This just proves how important and essential palliative care is in the medical field, not just for the elderly but for anyone who suffers from a serious condition.