Should I Go into a Palliative Care Unit?

If you have a chronic disease that’s impacting your quality of life, or a fatal condition, like late-stage cancer, you may be considering palliative care. But, it can be a scary thought: Does this mean I’m dying?  

While palliative care has long been associated with hospice care, one main component of palliative care is managing and preventing symptoms that go along with chronic illnesses. “The quality of life is much better when a patient’s symptoms are well-controlled,” Manish Srivastava MD, a hospice and palliative medicine specialist, explains.

Palliative Care: How Does it Work?

In many cases, if you have a chronic or advanced illness, your doctor will set you up with a palliative care team that will start by assessing all of your symptoms. “We look at not just the physical symptoms, but also their psychosocial aspects of care,” Dr. Srivastava explains. This includes determining if you are receiving enough physical, mental and spiritual support.

Your care team will also explain where you are in the disease process so you can make informed decisions on your goals for treatment. From there, they will tailor your treatment plan based on your individual preferences.

Palliative Care: What’s the Benefit?

#1: Improvement in the Quality and Length of Life

The primary goal of palliative care is to improve your quality of life. “In fact, there was a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine a couple years ago where they compared patients with lung cancer who received regular care versus palliative care, along with regular care, and they found that the quality of life was better … and the length of life was better,” Dr. Srivastava says.

#2: Better Communication with Family and Friends

Palliative care may also help remove communication barriers between patients and their families. In some cases, the patient will not reveal how much pain they’re really experiencing because they don’t want their family and friends to worry. 

For this reason, your care team typically schedules a family meeting to help get everyone on the same page. “Communication between the family members and patient improves and they are able to communicate their wishes in a better way,” Dr. Srivastava adds.

Tags: Cancer

Last Updated: October 23, 2014