To palliate means to comfort. The specialty of Palliative Medicine was created in response to the increasing number of patients with life-limiting diseases (such as Alzheimer’s Dementia, cancers, end-stage heart or lung disease, kidney failure, Lou Gehrig’s Disease [ALS]) who, because of medical therapies, were now living longer but with often uncontrolled pain and suffering.
Palliative Care is able to improve the quality of life for these patients by:
- Helping patients and their families clarify their goals so they can make more informed decisions and avoid non-beneficial treatments (including unnecessary drugs);
- Aggressively controlling symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath; and,
- Ensuring patients have the opportunity to choose a comfortable and dignified natural death.
PC can be offered simultaneously with all other appropriate medical treatments, can be utilized for years, and therefore is not only for those nearing death—that’s where hospice comes in: hospice is palliative care for the last six months of life.
Several studies have confirmed that people receiving palliative care are more likely to live better and longer because we focus on their comfort and not on attempts to cure the incurable.
For example, when 150 patients with stage IV lung cancer [cancer that has spread outside the lungs] were all treated with chemotherapy, but half of them also received palliative care, the palliative care group lived an average of three months longer (survived 11 months vs 8 months) than the group who had chemotherapy only!
Thus, using palliative care principles can benefit any doctor and their patient at any time during the course of the disease. Then, when we see that a patient is approaching their final months of life, referral to our hospice services will help ensure that the patient – and their family – will have a longer and more comfortable transition to the next life!