Discussions of palliative care may take families by surprise when the conversation occurs between a patient’s healthcare team and the patient and his or her family. Relying on the experience and suggestions of a person’s health care professional may make the decision easier to make. However, an independent study or brief research on the topic of palliative care may provide some benefits.
Here are some of the factors that may be under discussion as a family considers palliative care.
- In addition to palliative care, are there any other options available for treatment?
- What are the wants and desires of the person requiring or considering palliative care?
- How might palliative care benefit the patient regarding symptom control?
- What is to be expected with the illness regarding lifespan and pain?
Considerations of in home care or palliative care usually come when the patient has exhausted all other possibilities for treatment. The comfort of the patient may become the most important factor, and planning for the eventual pain that may result from a worsening terminal illness can help reduce the pain a person experiences. Timing palliative care usually depends on the length of time doctors estimate a patient has left and the likelihood that the person will experience pain without assistance for pain management.
Discussing What the Patient Wants for His or Her Life
A patient may have more than one option for treatment that includes treatments like chemotherapy for cancer or surgery, but undertaking some treatments might not end up being in the best interest of the patient. It is likely the health care professionals caring for the patient will make their recommendations, but it will often fall to the patient to make the final decisions. In some cases, a family member may also have a say in the process when the patient cannot make decisions on his or her own because of the advanced stage of the illness.
How Will the Illness Progress Over Time?
An illness that comes with a terminal diagnosis may indeed have various treatment options that may have the potential to increase the time a person has left before the disease claims his or her life. However, many diseases reach a point where various measures no longer make sense, and tending to the comfort of the patient becomes the most important factor. A steadily declining physical condition, or the decline of a patient’s mental status, may indicate the time has arrived to consider palliative care. If a patient doesn’t have a specific disease and has simply started to experience a rapid decline in health due to a variety of maladies, palliative care may also represent the best option.
How Can Palliative Care Help the Patient?
One of the essential factors for determining whether palliative care is the right choice is whether the patient can benefit from it. For example, some patients might not actually have a terminal illness; however, the care and pain control offered with palliative care may provide a benefit to the patient during difficult treatment of a life-threatening disease or illness. One of the misconceptions about palliative care is that it’s a “last resort” decision that is only on the table at the very end. In fact, discussions about palliative care may occur at different times during the progression of a disease, but particularly when uncontrolled pain may be starting to cause significant problems for the patient.
Deciding on Palliative Care with Summit Hospice
Like any major decisions about one’s health, the choice to pursue palliative care or hospice care requires a difficult discussion with the family and the patient’s health care team. If you have questions about end-of-life, palliative, or hospice care, contact Summit Hospice for more information.