Palliative care is a type of care provided to individuals with a serious illness and focuses on improving the quality of life of the patient during treatment for that illness. Patients typically get palliative care alongside their regular treatments, and this type of care is available for patients of all ages. Palliative care is intended to help relieve symptoms of the disease, manage pain levels and mitigate side effects resulting from disease treatment. It is also used to provide mental, spiritual and physical support for a patient dealing with a significant health issue.

Who Needs Palliative Care?

Anyone who is facing a life-threatening illness is eligible for palliative care. This includes adults, elderly individuals and children. Palliative care isn’t limited just to people who are at the end of life, as hospice care typically is, but can be used simultaneously along with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or organ transplant care.

What Palliative Care Involves

Palliative care takes a whole-person approach to treatment and support. Upon entering palliative care, you work with a team of doctors, nurses, counselors, physical therapists and other professionals to determine your specific needs and limitations. A palliative care doctor coordinates the overall care.

Because palliative care is specific to the individual and the existing treatment regimen, it may take a variety of different forms. In most cases, palliative care involves pain medication management, in which the palliative care doctor adjusts medicine dosage to minimize suffering during treatment or recovery. Palliative care might also include emotional or spiritual support in the form of a counselor or religious clergy member who listens to the patient’s concerns and offers feedback or advice as requested. Social workers or volunteers involved in palliative care might help you complete tasks such as scheduling appointments, running errands or arranging transportation to your doctor’s office. Home assistants involved in palliative care might help relieve the burden of caregivers and assist with everyday chores, such as cooking and cleaning. Your palliative care team can also provide information to family members about your treatment and care decisions.

Choosing Palliative Care

Choosing palliative care isn’t an all-or-nothing decision. The personalized nature of this type of care means that you can opt to get help with specific aspects of your condition or get all-encompassing assistance with daily living tasks during your recovery.

If you opt for palliative care, you don’t need to give up fighting your illness or pursuing treatment options. This type of care works in conjunction with other care, and your palliative care doctor can coordinate with the medical team providing treatment to ensure you have all the support you need.

While receiving palliative care alongside traditional medical treatments, a patient can set specific goals, values and long-term priorities about their care. For some patients, this might include developing a plan to transition into hospice care after trying treatment for a specific period of time. For others, it might mean seeking out alternative treatment options, continuing with treatment to prolong life indefinitely or participating in clinical trials. Your palliative care team can help you take the path you prefer by assisting with arrangements to extend or end specific treatments.