What is palliative care?
Palliative (pal-lee-uh-tiv) care is a specialized form of care that provides symptom relief, comfort and support to individuals living with serious illnesses. It also provides support to caregivers and those impacted by a loved one’s condition.
Palliative care complements the care you receive from the providers in charge of your care plan.
Your care team works to deliver the best care outcomes (results) available for your condition. Palliative care helps you live more comfortably — with the medical, social and emotional support needed to cope with having a serious illness.
You can receive palliative care no matter your age, prognosis or whether you’re receiving treatments.
What exactly does palliative care mean?
Palliative comes from the Latin word, palliare, which means “to cloak.” The word’s origins provide clues about the role of palliative care. Imagine an extra layer of comfort and protection shielding you from the harms associated with illness. This support is what palliative care is all about.
Is palliative care the same as end-of-life (hospice) care?
No. Palliative care refers to relieving the symptoms of an incurable medical condition. Its focus is on easing stress and improving overall quality of life. Unlike hospice — which people often associate with end-of-life care — palliative care can benefit people of any age and at any stage of a serious illness.
Who needs palliative care?
People with various conditions receive palliative care. Among many others, these conditions include:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- Alzheimer’s disease.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Heart disease.
- HIV & AIDS.
- Kidney disease.
- Liver disease.
- Lung disease.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Parkinson’s disease.
Who provides palliative care?
Palliative care teams include medical providers and other specialists who can help you manage symptoms. They can also help you navigate the added stress and responsibilities that often accompany serious illnesses.
Your care team may include:
- Social workers.
- Financial advisors.
- Spiritual advisors (chaplains).
Where can I receive palliative care?
Depending on the resources available in your area, you can receive palliative care in a variety of locations, including:
- Assisted living facility.
- In a nursing home.
- Outpatient clinic.
What types of support does palliative care provide?
Palliative care includes various forms of support across multiple fronts. Palliative care supplements your medical care. It can also provide social, emotional and spiritual support. Palliative care can help you address practical concerns like healthcare costs and legal planning.
Palliative care can help improve symptoms affecting your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Your palliative care team may deliver care directly. They may also teach you strategies you can use every day to feel better.
Palliative care can help with:
- Pain or discomfort.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Lack of appetite.
- Shortness of breath.
Your palliative care team may provide:
- Tips for improving sleep.
- Cognitive exercises.
- Relaxation exercises.
- Breathing exercises.
- Nutrition guidance.
- Exercise guidance.
- Talk therapy.
- Healing touch.
Palliative care providers can also refer you to specialists if you need additional care.
Education and advocacy
Your palliative care team can help you better understand your condition, including how it may impact your life in the future. They can help you weigh treatment options, including what kind of treatment you’d like to pursue. The more informed you are, the more you can make care decisions aligned with your values, goals and preferences.
Your palliative care team can help communicate these values, goals and preferences to your other providers so that you receive care on your terms.
Palliative care specialists can help build a support network that makes coping with illness easier for the person with the condition and their caregivers. Many caregivers face stress and strain that can harm their physical and mental health — palliative care can ease the strain.
Your palliative care team can connect you with support groups and community resources. They can help you communicate with family members or provide family counseling. They can also organize friends and family members to help with caretaking responsibilities (filling prescriptions, getting to and from appointments, etc.).
Palliative care can provide support whether the condition affects:
- Your child.
- Your parent.
- Your spouse or life partner.
- Another close friend or loved one.
Palliative care may include spiritual care, depending on your beliefs and preferences. Regular visits with a chaplain, religious leader or other spiritual advisors can be an important part of processing your illness’s impact on your life. As a part of palliative care, spiritual care may also guide your treatment preferences.
Financial and legal support
Your palliative care team can often connect you with resources to relieve the legal and financial stressors that often accompany having a serious illness. It can help with decision-making surrounding:
- Costs. Palliative care support may involve helping you understand resources available to help cover expenses. Most private insurers and Medicare plans cover palliative care costs either partially or fully. Palliative care can connect you with a financial advisor to help with financial planning.
- Living arrangements. Support includes planning for where you’ll live during your illness, including at home, with a loved one, or in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
- Legal documents. Palliative care can connect you with legal resources to help with power of attorney documents and living wills.
When is it time for palliative care?
There isn’t one set time for when someone should be offered palliative care. Many people opt for palliative care once they receive a serious diagnosis. Seeking care early on can help you plan for what’s to come.
Speak to your provider about whether they’d recommend palliative care for you.
What are the benefits of palliative care?
Palliative care empowers you to make better care decisions that positively impact your life. It can improve healthcare-related outcomes, too. Research has shown that palliative care is associated with:
- Longer life expectancy.
- Less anxiety and depression.
- Improved patient and caregiver satisfaction.
How can I get palliative care?
You’ll need a referral from your provider to receive palliative care. In some instances, your provider may recommend it. If not, don’t be afraid to bring up the topic. Mention that you’re interested in learning more about palliative care, including whether you’re a good candidate and what resources are available.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Living with a serious illness can take a toll on your mind, body, relationships — and many other aspects of life. The demands can be overwhelming. Palliative care exists to ease multiple burdens associated with having a serious disease. Speak with your provider if you’d like to learn more about palliative care available to you or a loved one. Resources may be available that can help provide you the comfort and support needed to live your life more fully.
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