Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak (or dying)

May 14, 2018 | by Mary Lou Mastro

Living with a chronic disease such as congestive heart failure or cancer is hard.

It’s also painful. Facing lifelong discomfort would be enough to depress anyone.

This is when palliative care comes in. It doesn’t mean you’re dying. It means you want to live and enjoy life again.

Palliative care is often confused with end-of-life or hospice care. It’s really not either of those things. In fact, patients can continue active treatment for their cancer, heart failure, or any other chronic disease management while under palliative care.

Palliative care is a way of taking care of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of those who have chronic disease. It’s specialized medical care, delivered at the hospital or in patients’ homes, designed to relieve the symptoms of a serious illness, whatever the diagnosis.

I think of palliative care as LIVING with the best quality of life. It addresses physical pain as well as a patient’s mental state. For example, palliative care can help a patient determine whether tapping into his or her spirituality or learning how to meditate or practice mindfulness will help them feel better as medicine eases their physical symptoms.

Palliative care is also there to help discuss the importance of advance care planning prior to a crisis. These providers can assist with completing advance directives. Facilitating these discussions is often a difficult task for individuals living with chronic disease to start on their own. Providing education on your chronic illness may help you make better choices for your care.  Palliative care can help address your wishes including the risks vs benefits of life sustaining measures in the setting of chronic illness. Patient’s autonomy is respected and helps them take ownership of their end of life care.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our physicians, advanced practice nurses and other clinicians work with chaplains and social workers to provide inpatient and outpatient palliative care options in a compassionate, healing environment. We want to improve our patients’ comfort and quality of life while supporting their loved ones through the process.

Once your physician refers you to our palliative care program, our palliative care team will consult with you to figure out the best next steps. Palliative care is usually covered by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Choosing palliative care doesn’t mean you’re giving up on life. It’s not the same as hospice, which is “comfort care” that is recommended for people who likely have six months or less to live. You don’t have to have a terminal illness to receive palliative care. Palliative care works in conjunction with all other supportive medical care and providers. They are a great extra layer of support for patients and families.

Palliative care ensures patients can live life to the fullest, despite chronic disease. Who can argue with being more comfortable?

If you or a loved one has a serious illness or disease, we can help. Learn more about palliative care.

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