How Do I Know if My Parent May Be In Need of Palliative Care?

If you are an adult child of a parent who is in his or her latter years of life and has become ill with some type of disease of medical condition, you may wonder what steps can be taken to enhance the overall comfort and wellbeing of your mother or father. You way wonder whether or not palliative care is an appropriate course for your parent. This article is presented to provide you some basic information about palliative care and whether or not it makes sense for your parent.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is defined as specialized medical care. This specialized medical care focuses on providing patients relief from pain as well as other symptoms of a serious illness, disease, or medical condition. Palliative care is available no matter the diagnosis or present stage of disease. Palliative care teams have the goal to improve the quality of life for both patients and their families. Palliative care is offered alongside curative or other treatments your parent may receive or already be receiving.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained people (both in and outside of the medical profession). A palliative care team provides an extra layer of support that complements your parent’s ongoing medical care and treatment.

How Do I Know if Palliative Care Is the Right Choice for My Parent?

Many older individuals who are diagnosed with some type of disease or medical condition find themselves experiencing pain, other types of physical symptoms, and emotional distress. If this sounds like what your mother or father is experiencing, palliative care might be appropriate for your parent. 

You may want to give serious consideration of palliative care for your parent if he or she:

  • Suffers from pain or other symptoms due to any serious illness, disease, or medical condition.
  • Experiences physical or emotional pain that is not under control.
  • Needs help to understand his or her illness and to discuss treatment.

How Can Palliative Care Help My Mother or Father?

Working in conjunction with your parent’s primary health care provider, a palliative care team provides pain and symptom control throughout the treatment process. Team members spend as much time as it takes with your parent and your family to help everyone fully understand your parent’s condition, care options, and other needs. A palliative care team also assists your parent make smooth transitions between all the settings where he or she may receive care (the hospital, nursing facilities, or home care).

Palliative care aids your parent and your family in setting goals for the future with a focus on your parent leading a meaningful, enjoyable life during treatment and into the future.

This results in well-planned, complete treatment for all of your parent’s symptoms throughout your illness, including but not limited to pain management. Palliative care focuses on your parent’s present condition and anticipates his or her future needs as well.

When Should Palliative Care For My Parent Begin?

The National Institutes of Health emphasizes that it is never too early to commence palliative care:

Palliative care can occur at the same time as all other treatments for your illness and does not depend upon the course of your disease. There is no reason to wait. Palliative care teams understand that pain and other symptoms affect your quality of life and can leave you lacking the energy or motivation to pursue the things you enjoy. They also know that the stress of what you’re going through can have a big impact on your family. And they can assist you and your loved ones as you cope with the experience of living with a serious illness.

Where Can I Obtain Palliative Care For My Parent?

Palliative care can be provided in a number of different settings, depending on the needs and circumstances of your parent. Palliative care can be provided at:

  • Hospital
  • Outpatient clinic
  • Assisted living residence
  • Home 

How Do I Start the Process of Obtaining Palliative Care For My Parent?

The process of obtaining palliative care for your mother or father commences with a referral from your parent’s healthcare provider to a palliative care team. Your parent’s healthcare provider may make such a referral as a matter of course. In the alternative, you or your parent can request that such a referral be made. 

Is Palliative Care Effective?

Researchers have studied the positive effects derived from palliative care. Recent research studies demonstrate that patients who receive palliative care report improvement in areas that include:

  • Pain, nausea, and shortness of breath.
  • Communication with their health care providers and family members.
  • Emotional support.

Other research studies demonstrate that starting palliative care early in the course of an illness, disease, or medical condition:

  • Ensures that care is more in line with patients’ wishes.
  • Decreases stress and increases confidence in making decisions surrounding a loved one’s care.
  • Meets the emotional and spiritual needs of patients and their families.

Armed with this information, it is hoped that you are in a better position to discuss palliative care with your parent and his or her healthcare provider. Generally speaking, palliative care can prove to be a highly beneficial addition to your parent’s course of treatment or care.