Making Choices – Choosing Comfort (Palliative Care) When There is no Cure

As we get older, it is natural to expect at least a few health problems.  Aches and pains seem to go hand in hand with getting older and that we will have to endure more age-related symptoms. Several studies show that older people’s fears are related to unrelieved pain and/or to loneliness following the death of a spouse or friends.

What do elders want?
When the natural problems that go along with aging are combined with life-limiting diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia, congestive heart failure, incurable cancers, chronic kidney failure, AIDS, or oxygen-dependent emphysema (in other words, chronic illnesses which have no cure and which will usually eventually lead to a person’s death), then the result can be an increasing dependence on family or caregivers for activities of daily living [ADL].  And while families want to provide the love, care and attention elders need, still many seniors suffer discomfort as well as a loss of independence and dignity.

Are we meeting the healthcare needs of our elders?
Researchers have found that seniors want to be comfortable, being in as little pain as possible, and they want to avoid inappropriately prolonging the dying process.  Seniors also want to enjoy and strengthen family relationships while maintaining their independence or sense of control without being a burden to anyone.  Family and caregivers of seniors want their loved ones wishes to be honored and be included in the decision-making process.

Both seniors and their families want honest information, 24/7 access, to be listened to, and privacy.

What do we have to offer elders and their families?

For those more interested in comfort and in the quality of years lived rather than the quantity of years, we offer a team approach to meet your goals.  Using palliative care principles, suffering can be relieved for those with advanced illness. 

For seniors who want to focus on a good night’s sleep, a controllable bowel/ bladder [neither too often nor too little!], fewer pills, and not to be “nagged” about sticking to a diet, overdoing it, etc., this palliative approach will be appreciated.

‘Palliative’ means to comfort, to control pain, to give relief.  It means instead of aggravating suffering by trying to investigate or cure problems when there is no cure, we focus on improving the quality of time a person has remaining.  It does not mean that we are ‘giving up’ or “there’s nothing else we can do”.  It still allows the opportunity to continue disease-modifying treatments, such as chemotherapy, if desired.

Hope for the best, but be prepared for whatever happens!

This palliative policy within the nursing home avoids the ‘false hope’ that prevents people from dealing with reality.  Instead, hope lies in living more comfortably and enjoying the remaining time knowing that none of us can predict the future; while focusing on realistic healthcare goals allows one to ‘be prepared’ for whatever happens.

We cannot prevent death, but we can make the closing years more peaceful for everyone.  If you are interested in this care, speak with your nurse or doctor.