Understanding Palliative Care: Compassionate Support for Those in Need

Understanding palliative care is essential as it provides compassionate support for those facing serious illnesses. It focuses on relief from symptoms and stress to improve patients' and their families' quality of life.

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Understanding Palliative Care: Compassionate Support for Those in Need
5 Min Read June 4th, 2024

Palliative care is a specialized form of medical care focused on relieving the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. Its primary goal is to improve the patient's and their family's quality of life. Each year, millions of people benefit from palliative care, as it helps manage pain, symptoms, and emotional stress associated with chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions.

Unlike hospice care, which is typically reserved for someone nearing the end of life, palliative care can be provided at any stage of a serious illness. It is not limited to those with terminal conditions and can be offered alongside curative treatments. Mayo Clinic says palliative care focuses on providing extra support and working with other medical treatments to help patients manage their symptoms more effectively.

Palliative care is specialized medical care focused on relief from pain and other distressing symptoms of a serious illness. It also helps manage side effects from medical treatments. Regardless of whether someone's health condition can be cured, palliative care is available to provide comfort and quality of life at any stage of illness.

Palliative care differs significantly from long-term care, which primarily addresses the ongoing personal care needs of individuals who cannot independently perform basic activities of daily living (ADLs). Long-term care often involves assisting with bathing, dressing, and eating. Long-term care services are provided in various settings, including in the care recipient's home, assisted living facilities, or nursing homes.

Comfort During a Difficult Time

One key aspect of palliative care is its holistic approach, which addresses physical symptoms and emotional, social, and spiritual needs. This comprehensive care approach helps patients navigate their healthcare journey with greater ease and comfort, ensuring they receive the necessary support tailored to their needs.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for individuals living with serious illnesses. It is provided by a team of highly trained doctors, nurses, and social workers who work together to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family.

So, how do you know when to consider palliative care for a loved one? Let's review the top 5 signs that indicate that you and your family could benefit from the blessings offered by palliative care.

1. Frequent Hospital Visits

If you're noticing the hospital has become a second home for your loved one due to their illness, it might be time to think about palliative care. 

Chronic trips to the ER or repeated hospital admissions for painful symptoms or complications can be a real drain, not just physically but emotionally, too. Palliative care professionals specialize in managing symptoms, meaning they can often prevent the need for these stressful and exhausting hospital visits.

2. Difficult Side Effects and Symptoms

When someone struggles with severe symptoms or side effects from treatment, daily life can feel like an uphill battle. We're talking pain, nausea, fatigue, or depression that doesn't seem to quit. 

Palliative care tailored to your needs comes into play by addressing these distressing symptoms directly. This type of care is all about comfort and quality of life, which can sometimes get lost in the aggressive treatment of the disease itself.

Professionals well-versed in this niche area of medicine often understand patients' physical, mental, and emotional states much better than regular specialists, making them essential for offering the comprehensive care that patients struggling with serious illnesses require.

Palliative Care Program and Nurse Practitioner Bernardita Roe, MSN, APRN, ANP-BC, at Washington Hospital Healthcare System says that palliative care has led to better management of symptoms, pain, and depression in patients and less stress and anxiety for their families.

Some patients, and even some doctors, avoid taking advantage of palliative care services because they mistakenly associate it with care given at the end of life. But adding palliative care to your treatment plan may improve or even extend life.

3. Complex Needs That Overwhelm Regular Caregivers

If the care required by your loved one is starting to look like a complex medical procedure, palliative care might be the backup you need. This isn't just about a pill here and there.

We're talking about complex medication regimens, medical equipment at home, or the need for advanced pain management strategies. Palliative care teams include various specialists who can help navigate these complexities, ensuring your loved one gets the comprehensive care they need without running you ragged.

4. Significant Changes in Functional Abilities

Watch out for significant drops in functionality. Maybe your loved one used to handle daily tasks like bathing, dressing, or even walking around with little to no help.

If they're suddenly unable to perform these basic tasks, it's a strong indicator that additional support is needed. Palliative care can include physical therapy and occupational therapy to help maintain independence and functionality for as long as possible.

5. Emotional and Psychological Strain

It's not just the physical symptoms that signal the need for palliative care; emotional and psychological stress can be just as crippling. If your loved one is showing signs of anxiety, depression, or withdrawal, it might be time to call in some extra support. 

Palliative care providers don't just look after the body. They care deeply about the emotional and psychological well-being of patients, providing counseling and support to help manage the mental burdens of serious illness.

Palliative Care is Not "Giving Up"

Deciding to incorporate palliative care into your loved one's treatment plan isn't about giving up; it's about adding an extra layer of support. 

Palliative care ensures the best possible quality of life for your loved one by relieving symptoms and stress. The sooner palliative care begins, the more effective it can be in managing the illness and improving quality of life.

Heather Hack, a board-certified family nurse practitioner providing palliative care services at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, says that people with serious illnesses can feel completely overwhelmed. She reminds us that palliative care isn't limited to specific diseases. It supports individuals facing serious illnesses, like cancer or ALS, to manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Palliative care is not just for people who have a life-limiting disease. It can help people going through a difficult time during any serious illness. No matter where they are in that illness, we can help them determine their goals for care, make complex decisions, and connect them with services and resources.

Insurance Coverage for Palliative Care

Palliative care is covered by both health insurance and Medicare in the U.S., but with some important distinctions:

  • Health Insurance: Most private plans cover palliative care services like inpatient/outpatient care and mental health counseling. However, check your plan details for specifics like:
  • Copays: You might have a set fee per palliative care visit.
  • Deductible: You might need to meet a certain amount out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in.
  • Out-of-pocket maximum: There might be a yearly limit on what you pay for covered services.


  • Original Medicare (Parts A & B): Covers palliative care for serious or terminal illnesses, including inpatient/outpatient care and mental health counseling. You may have some cost-sharing (copays, coinsurance).
  • Medicare Advantage Plans: These offer alternative ways to receive Medicare benefits and most cover palliative care but check your specific plan for details and potential costs.
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About the Author

Linda Kople is a freelance writer with a personal family history in long-term care. She specializes in aging-related topics such as caregiving, health, and retirement planning. Her experiences and interests drive her to explore and write about the various aspects of aging and health issues.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

Understanding palliative care is crucial for those facing serious illnesses, as it focuses on providing relief from symptoms and stress to enhance the quality of life for both patients and their families. Health insurance and Medicare often cover palliative care but only pay for 100 days of short-term skilled care. This limitation underscores the importance of planning for the costs and burdens of aging as part of your comprehensive retirement strategy.

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