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What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is the compassionate care of a dying person, minimizing their suffering as they progress towards the end of life. Medically, this is achieved by helping dull the patient’s pain with pain and symptom management methods. A person receiving palliative care (also known as hospice care) will have an active, progressive and far-advanced disease, with little or no prospect of cure. The aim of palliative care is to achieve the best possible quality of life for the patient and their family and loved ones. Palliative care does not hasten or postpone death, it affirms life and treats dying as a normal process.

Who Receives Palliative Care?

Generally, people with active, progressive and advanced illnesses receive palliative care. Cancer patients, people with Alzheimer’s Disease, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, and people coping with other advanced diseases.

What Is Involved in Palliative Care?

Pain Management

People living with a critical or terminal illness may experience pain.

Palliative care providers work with patients and their families to identify the sources of pain and relieve it. Pain can be managed with drugs or other methods like massage therapy and relaxation techniques.

Symptom Management

People with terminal illness may also have to deal with other symptoms. These may include difficulties with breathing, nausea, loss of appetite, bowel and bladder issues, confusion, and weakness.

These can be very uncomfortable and distressing for the person receiving care. Palliative care can help manage and relieve these symptoms, minimizing stress and discomfort.

Support

Palliative care provides all levels of support, for both the patient and their family.

It integrates the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of care, focusing on the person as a whole. Palliative care is unique and personal with a coordinated assessment and management of each individual patient’s needs.

It also offers offers a support system to help the family cope during their loved one’s illness and in their own bereavement.

Where Are Palliative Care Services Provided?

Palliative care is available in a number of places – in your own home, in long-term care facilities, in hospitals, and in residential hospices. The options available will depend entirely on where you are located. If you are in or near a large city you will have more choices than those in rural areas.

At Home

Palliative care is provided in people’s homes by home care service agencies and programs. They offer professional nursing care and a variety of home care support services for the patient and their family.

Remaining at home allows people to live as normally as possible and stay close to their families. Many people feel more comfortable at home, and appreciate that they have the independence and freedom to make choices and decisions about their own care and environment.

Sometimes there can be situations where people can’t remain at home, or choose not to receive palliative care at home. There are other options available.

Long-Term Care Facilities

A long-term care facility, like a nursing home, may offer palliative care services. There is generally a waiting list to enter these facilities. If the person requires a more specialized type of palliative care services, the long-term care facility may not be able to provide them on site.

Hospitals

Some hospitals have units dedicated to palliative care, with a team of specialists available. Some hospitals will set aside a certain number of beds in different units for people needing palliative care.

Hospitals who have a palliative care team, composed of health professionals specialized in this type of care, can help other staff provide palliative care in the unit where the ill person is staying.

Residential Hospices

A residential hospice is a building or apartment house where palliative care is provided in a home-like environment. Some people move into hospices to receive 24 hour palliative care.

There are currently very few residential hospices in Canada.

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