Palliative Care

You may have heard of a new medical term – palliative care (pronounced PAH-LEE-UH-TIVE). For the last thirty years, palliative care has been provided by hospice programs for dying Americans. Currently these programs serve more than 1.2 million patients and their families each year. Now this very same approach to care is being used by other healthcare providers, including teams in hospitals, nursing facilities and home health agencies in combination with other medical treatments to help people who are seriously ill.

To palliate means to make comfortable by treating a person’s symptoms from an illness. Hospice and palliative care both focus on helping a person be comfortable by addressing issues causing physical or emotional pain or suffering. Hospice and other palliative care providers have teams of people working together to provide care. The goals of palliative care are to improve the quality of a seriously ill person’s life and to support that person as well as their family during and after treatment.

Hospice focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting patients with a life expectancy of months not years, and their families. However, palliative care may be given at any time during a person’s illness, from diagnosis on. Most hospices have a set of defined services, team members, rules and regulations. Some hospices provide palliative care as a separate program or service, which can be very confusing.

Types of Pain

Pain is most often thought of as physical pain, which can be separated into two types of pain – acute and chronic.

Acute pain
results from surgery, injury, inflammation or disease. This type of pain generally comes on suddenly, for example, after trauma or surgery. The cause of acute pain can usually be diagnosed and treated, and the pain is confined to a given period of time and severity.

Chronic pain
is widely believed to represent disease itself. It can be made much worse by environmental and psychological factors. Chronic pain persists over a longer period of time than acute pain and is resistant to most medical treatments.

Pain is not always physical, both acute (short term) and chronic (ongoing) pain can lead to emotional suffering.

Emotional and spiritual pain
may include sleep problems, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and depression. The many losses your pain may be causing, including the loss of control over your own life, may result in emotional and spiritual pain. Being in pain can change your thoughts, motivation, relationships and daily activities. Pain replaces the past focus of your life (family, work, fun) without your permission. Chronic, persistent pain is debilitating and can be frustrating to live with, both for you and for the people near you. Because chronic pain is such a personal experience, it’s difficult for anyone else to understand exactly what you’re feeling and going through since no one knows your pain like you.