Role of Palliative Care For Different Medical Conditions

Palliative care is a relatively new and ever-broadening field within the broader arena of healthcare. Through this article we provide an overview of palliative care for your consideration as well as examples of how palliative care is used in the context of different types of medical conditions. 

If you are the adult child of an older parent, you may face a situation in which your mother or father requires a more significant course of medical treatment. If that is the case, it is wise that you are armed with some of the essentials associated with palliative care.

Overview of Palliative Care

The Mayo Clinic has been a leader in the development of palliative care in the United States. The Mayo Clinic has developed a useful, practical, and understandable explanation of palliative care that goes beyond a sterile technical definition:

The palliative care specialty group at Mayo Clinic offers medical care that focuses on providing patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness, no matter the diagnosis or stage of disease. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for both patients and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments directed at one’s illness.

Mayo Clinic’s palliative care specialty group is made up of a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained people. They work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care.

Palliative care can be useful in a wide range if situations involving different types of medical care and treatment. Palliative care can also be a part of a hospice process as well. Palliative care and hospice is a conversation reserved for another day. In this article we address palliative care as it relates to diseases, illnesses, ailments, and conditions that can be survivable. 

Examples of the types of diseases of conditions that may warrant palliative care include:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dementia
  • COPD
  • Diabetes

Palliative Care for Person Diagnosed With Cancer

Cancer is one of the diseases that is most commonly associated with palliative care. Determining a course of palliative care for a person with cancer undergoing treatment necessitates a consideration of a number of factors that include:

  • the type of cancer
  • symptoms
  • treatment
  • age
  • prognosis

 The National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) has addressed the importance of palliative care with cancer treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute, research demonstrates that palliative care and its many elements are beneficial to patient and family health and well-being. The National Cancer Institute states that more recent research studies have shown that integrating palliative care into a patient’s traditional course of cancer care and treatment soon after a diagnosis of more advanced cancer can improve overall quality of life and mood. 

There is also growing evidence that palliative care for a person being treated for cancer may even prolong survival. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends that all patients with advanced cancer receive palliative care.

Palliative Care for Person Diagnosed With Cardiovascular Disease

It is undisputed that cardiovascular disease has the prospect of negatively impacting a person’s quality of life and even their ability to appropriately care for themselves on a consistent basis. Palliative care is recommended with regularity for individuals with certain types of cardiovascular disease. These conditions include:

  • Heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Aortic stenosis

A review of studies reported in the highly regarded Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2019 revealed that early palliative care may help increase the likelihood that people with these diseases will experience their desired end-of-life goals or outcomes. Palliative care for cardiovascular disease may help symptom relief, provide mental health support, and aid in decision making for people with these types of diseases. It may also provide assistance to their families.

Palliative Care for Person Diagnosed With Dementia

As mentioned at the outset of this article, palliative care is designed to assist a person receiving medical care and treatment but also their families as well. Few other diseases highlight the fact that palliative care exists to support families as well as patients than does dementia. 

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, can affect a person in a variety of ways that include:

  • cognition
  • memory
  • language
  • judgment
  • behavior

The National Institutes of Health has led an authoritative discussion regarding palliative care and dementia. The agency states: 

The number of people with dementia will rise dramatically over the next 20 years. Currently, one in three people over the age of 65 will die with dementia. Advanced dementia is now being perceived as a terminal illness with a similar symptom burden and prognosis to advanced cancer. People with dementia have poor access to good quality end-of-life care. Interventions such as antibiotics, fever management policies, and enteral tube feeding remain in use despite little evidence that they improve quality of life or other outcomes. Research is required on the effectiveness of ‘holistic’ palliative care, outcome measures and the impact on caregivers and families.

Palliative Care for Person Diagnosed With COPD

According to the American Lung Association,chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a large group of lung diseases. These lung diseases are characterized by obstruction of air flow that interferes with normal breathing. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most commonplace conditions that are included under the COPD umbrella. These conditions frequently coexist in the same individual.

Approximately 16.5 million people in the United States suffer from COPD. According to the American Lung Association,in 2018 156,045 people died from COPD. This makes COPD the fourth overall leading cause of death behind heart disease, cancer, and accidents and unintentional injuries in the United States. COPD is the third disease-related cause of death in the country.

Examples of palliative care provided for a person with COPD may include:

  • Treatments for discomfort
  • Treatments to anxiety
  • Treatments for breathing-related insomnia
  • Education on lifestyle changes (like stopping smoking)

Palliative Care for Person Diagnosed With Diabetes

The National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases reports shocking statistics regarding diabetes in the United States:

An estimated 34.2 million people have diabetes in the United States, over 10 percent of the nation’s population.

An estimated 26.9 million people of all ages have been diagnosed with diabetes, 8.2 percent of the U.S. population.

An estimated 7.3 million adults ages 18 years or older have diabetes but are undiagnosed, or 21.4 percent of adults with diabetes.

Palliative care for a person with diabetes can include assistance with comfort and pain management. It can also include:

  • Medication support and assistance
  • Medication simplification 
  • Mental health support
  • Education for person with diabetes and family