Palliative care is an approach to care that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing problems associated with life-limiting illness.
Palliative care focuses on the prevention and relief of suffering through early identification and assessment and treatment of pain, symptoms, and other physical, psychosocial and spiritual challenges. It can be offered from the time of diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, through curative therapy, and at end-of-life.
End-of-life (EOL) care is part of palliative care. EOL care refers to the care of a person during the last weeks, days and hours of their life, when it has become clear that the person is in a progressive state of decline and curative treatments are no longer possible or desired.
Treatment stops when palliative care starts. You may think that palliative care signals the end of disease management and related treatment. In reality, some disease-oriented treatments improve symptoms and increase quality of life and therefore may continue to be provided as a comfort measure while receiving palliative care.
Palliative care is most appropriate for patients who will likely die soon. Palliative care is not just for patients who are dying. A palliative approach means focusing on improving quality of life, and a holistic focus for those with life-limiting illness regardless of the stage of illness.
Raising the topic of palliative or end-of-life care diminishes hope. It is very important to have these discussions early to protect a patient’s quality of life as long as possible and find out what’s important to them. People can and often wish to articulate what’s important to them through advance care planning—a process that encourages reflection on values, wishes, and goals. This also helps loved ones to be aware of a patient’s preferences in the event that they become incapable of communicating their wishes related to care. These discussions do not usually diminish hope but shift it to a hope for comfort, dignity, and respect for a patient’s expressed wishes.
If you or your loved one is an inpatient at Niagara Health, you may ask your inpatient physician or a member of the interdisciplinary team (i.e. nurse, therapist) for a referral to the inpatient palliative care service.
If you or your loved one is in the community and feel the need for further assistance, please contact your family physician or the Community Care Access Centre (home care).