The formal definition is: interdisciplinary care that aims to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for patients with advanced illness and their families. It can be offered simultaneously with all other appropriate medical treatment, including chemo- or radiotherapy and surgical procedures. [Ref: Center to Advance Palliative Care]
It is a “comfort-focused” care which soothes symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, confusion, nausea. It is not intended to displace a patient’s primary disease treatment: rather, it complements any other consultant’s care by helping to control troublesome symptoms; and it can be provided at the same time as the other’s care for several years. Thus, contrary to a common myth, is not just for those actively dying. But, when death does finally approach, and the primary consultant has no new treatments, the palliative care team can offer a dignified end of life and avoid futile care.
In other words, a Palliative Care team can help people (and their families) with any life-limiting disease live comfortably as long as possible; and when they are at the very end of life, it helps them to die comfortably.
For more information about Palliative Care, see the sidebar article “Making Choices – Choosing Comfort (Palliative Care) When There is no Cure”, or go to the Center to Advance Palliative Care website www.capc.org.