Palliative Care is comfort-focused care. To palliate means to comfort. Palliative medicine improves the quality of life for those with any serious, life-limiting illness (a disease which will eventually lead to death if something else doesn’t occur first) such as Alzheimer’s Dementia, cancers, end-stage heart or lung disease, kidney failure, Lou Gehrig’s Disease [ALS].
It does this by:
Helping patients and families clarify their goals so they can make more informed decisions and avoid non-beneficial treatments or 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.
Palliative care can be offered simultaneously with any other appropriate medical treatments and is not only for those nearing death. The difference between PC and hospice is only that hospice is palliative care for the last six months of life. Both PC and hospice help people to live rather than be kept alive!
Studies confirm that people receiving palliative care often live better and longer if we focus on their comfort and avoid attempts to cure the incurable. For example, when 150 patients with stage IV lung cancer [cancer that has spread everywhere] were all treated with chemotherapy, but half of them also received palliative care at the same time, the palliative care group lived an average of three months longer (11 months vs 8 months) than the group who had chemotherapy only!
If you have a life-limiting disease and want to live comfortably as long as possible, ask your doctor to follow PC principles when treating you: it will be a win-win for everyone.