To palliate means to make the effects less painful, harmful, or harsh [M.Webster – from the Latin palliatus]. Both Palliative Care and hospice are comfort-focused, helping people to live comfortably rather than just be kept alive! PC can be provided simultaneously with other medical treatments – sometimes for years – improving the quality of life for those with any serious or life-limiting illness (which refers to incurable diseases usually leading to death, such as Alzheimer’s Dementia, cancers, end-stage heart disease), by:
- Helping patients/families clarify their goals so they can make more informed decisions and avoid treatments or drugs that won’t benefit them;
- Improving symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath; and,
- Ensuring patients have the opportunity to choose a comfortable and dignified natural death.
It needs to be emphasized that PC is not just for the actively dying—that is primarily hospice’s role, which is palliative care for the last six months of life.
Studies confirm people receiving PC often live better and longer when we focus on comfort and avoid attempts to cure the incurable. For example, when 150 patients with stage 4 lung cancer [cancer spread everywhere] were treated with chemotherapy, but with half (75) also receiving PC simultaneously, the PC group lived an average of three months longer (11 compared to 8 months) than the group with only chemotherapy!
So, if you have a life-limiting disease and want to live longer and more comfortably, ask your doctor to include PC principles when treating you (meaning, avoid tests and treatments that have shown little benefit, while using those which improve comfort); and ask for a referral to Hospice of the Shoals if he feels your prognosis is less than six months.