What Are the Benefits of Palliative Care?

The journey through life can be filled with ups and downs. These can include periods of good health and instances when a person is in need of medical care, treatment, and assistance. If you are the adult child of an older parent, you may be at a juncture at which your beloved parent is facing a significant medical issue. You certainly want to optimize your parent’s care as much as possible. To this end, you may wonder whether palliative care makes sense in your parent’s situation. As you make that assessment, you need to consider the benefits to be derived from palliative care.

The benefits of palliative care include:

  • Puts the patient’s desires, goals and decisions first
  • Supports the patient and family
  • Helps patients and families understand treatment plans
  • Improves quality of life
  • Provides pain and symptom control
  • Focuses on body, mind and spirit
  • Reduces unnecessary hospital visits 

Through this article, we consider each of these primary benefits of palliative care.

Patient Is Number One

Palliative care really is not patient care as much as it is person care. The primary focus of palliative care is the comfort and wellbeing of the person involved in some type of medical treatment regimen or who is experiencing what appears to be that individual’s last stages of life. 

In traditional medical practice in the Western World, the focus really does tend to be on the disease or ailment that brought a person to a doctor or hospital. While certainly the patient is the person being medically treated, oftentimes it feels as if the medical condition, disease, illness, or ailment is the actual focus of care (because that kind of is the case).

Palliative care does not diminish the vital importance of the primary medical care and treatment being provided. Rather, it supplements that traditional care and treatment in a way that addresses pain and other symptoms while all the while focusing on the person and that individual’s overall sense of wellbeing.

Patient and Family Support

Medical care and treatment understandably have their focus on the patient. Palliative care extends the focus beyond the patient – the person being treated – to family members (or other close individuals) as well. 

Palliative care is designed to provide an important level of emotional support to loved ones of a person receiving medical care (or an individual in hospice). In addition to providing emotional support, palliative care is also designed to provide vital information to a family member or other appropriate loved one in regard to what is occurring in the care and treatment process. 

The holistic approach at the foundation of palliative care can be said to extend beyond the patient his or her self. The holistic nature of palliative care encompasses the family and other loved ones as well. 

Understand Treatment Plan

When a physician describes a treatment plan for a patient, the process can be mind-numbing. Unfortunately, time after time if you ask a patient what was discussed in a treatment plan meeting, a patient is apt to be able to name a few items – or maybe none at all.

This is understandable, of course. A patient has a tremendous amount on his or her mind when he or she faces the prospect of being treated for a serious medical condition. 

For this reason, a person in need of medical care oftentimes is encouraged to bring a family member or trusted friend along to a treatment plan meeting. The problem is that oftentimes a family member of friend has a similar response to that discussed a moment ago following a treatment plan meeting. 

Understanding the treatment plan is another benefit of palliative care. A palliative care team has the time and expertise necessary to explain a treatment plan in detail and in a manner that may be more easily digested by a patient and their family. In addition, the nature of palliative care permits a team member the time to answer any questions that may arise from time to time regarding a treatment plan or course of medical care.

Improve Quality of Life

The primary impetus of palliative care is improving the quality of life of both a patient receiving medical care as well as that individual’s family or other supportive loved ones. The idea is that even an individual receiving a tough course of medical treatment (like some forms of cancer treatment, for example) does not have to completely sacrifice a decent quality of life and his or her overall sense of wellbeing in the process. 

Pain and Symptom Control

The reality is that most individuals are under the assumption that palliative care is designed to assist with pain and symptom control. It is some of the other objectives and benefits discussed in this article that they may not have been aware of before diving into this text. 

The fact is that managing pain and addressing certain other symptoms is necessary in order to ensure a decent quality of life and an overall sense of wellbeing during a medical treatment process. Pain management and symptom control are processes that are both carefully undertaken to ensure optimal effect and to avoid any unnecessary side effects or complications. 

A palliative care team works closely with the primary care physician and other healthcare professionals involved in the medical treatment of an individual with a disease, illness, or condition. This coordination ensures that a palliative care team is able to respond to milestones or alterations in a course of treatment in a manner that consistently works towards optimizing comfort and minimizing pain and other symptoms associated with prescribed medical care. 

Focus on Body, Mind, and Spirit

Palliative care takes a holistic approach to meeting the needs of a patient. In medicine, holistic refers to the treatment of the whole person – body, mind, and soul. 

According to WebMD:

Holistic medicine practitioners believe that the whole person is made up of interdependent parts and if one part is not working properly, all the other parts will be affected. In this way, if people have imbalances (physical, emotional, or spiritual) in their lives, it can negatively affect their overall health.

Elements of holistic medical practices, which can be applicable to the palliative care focus on body, mind, and soul, are these precepts:

  • All people have innate healing powers.
  • The patient is a person, not a disease.
  • Healing takes a team approach involving the patient and doctor and addresses all aspects of a person’s life using a variety of health care practices.
  • Treatment involves fixing the cause of the condition, not just alleviating the symptoms.

Reduce Hospital Visits

Yet another of the primary benefits of palliative care is that it has the potential to reduce the number of hospital visits. Palliative care includes the involvement of professionals who have what fairly can be called a sharp focus on the state of affairs regarding your parent’s overall wellness. If something seems awry, quicker intervention is possible thanks to the presence of these professionals as part of a broader treatment team. Quicker intervention allows for a speedier resolution of an issue. This type of response is invaluable when it comes to keeping a person like your parent out of the hospital. 

The next step to take if you are contemplating palliative care for your parent is to visit with your mother or father about the idea. You and your parent will then want to discuss a palliative care referral with your parent’s primary care physician or other healthcare provider.