Facing a serious illness? There are benefits to receiving palliative care early

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. While palliative care can help you at any age and at any stage of your illness, research shows that getting palliative care right away when facing an illness can make a positive difference.

Palliative care helps you and your family

If you are dealing with symptoms from your illness or from treatment, you shouldn’t wait to ask for palliative care. Here are five ways palliative care can support you right at diagnosis.

Palliative care can also help if you are currently receiving treatment for your illness. Your palliative care team will work alongside your other doctors to make sure that your illness is being treated along with all of the side effects or other issues that may arise. Your loved ones may also need support to help them deal with stress and anxiety. One study conducted at the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Nursing shows that early initiation of palliative care for patients with cancer improves their lives physically and may also reduce the depression and stress that family caregivers feel when caring for a loved one.

In the following episode of the Quality Life Podcast, which features stories of patients who are currently receiving palliative care, we hear from Shari McClendon, who has pulmonary hypertension. We also hear from her husband and devoted caretaker, Jim. Shari and Jim detail the critical role that palliative care has played in improving their quality of life. Shari and Jim speak to how palliative care has supported their family in a variety of ways. Mary Martin, a palliative care nurse, also shares how the palliative care team helped Shari and her entire family deal with the realities of this disease. At the core, this episode is about Shari and Jim, and how their 38-year marriage has endured.

Palliative care helps keep you out of the hospital

Last year, a study released by Duke University Hospital showed that patients who receive palliative care earlier make fewer hospital visits than those who do not take advantage of this medical specialty.  The Duke researchers compared patients who had consistent palliative care meetings—which include the patient and the family along with a full palliative care team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists—with patients who didn’t receive palliative care. The results show a 23-percent decrease in the number of patients who went back to the hospital within a week after a visit.

In this episode of the Quality Life series, we hear from Malcolm, a 51-year-old Philadelphia man whose life changed dramatically when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Malcolm shares how palliative care helps manage his pain and keeps him out of the hospital. His palliative care physician, Dr. Arthur Siegel, relays how pain affects a person both physically and emotionally. Dr. Siegel and his team of palliative care specialists work with Malcom to manage his pain and help him live a more active and productive life.

Palliative care specialists agree: early is better

Palliative care clinicians know firsthand that meeting patients as early as possible can lead to many benefits. In this video, Dr. Emily Riegel, Assistant Professor of Palliative Care at the University of Kansas Medical Center, says that palliative care has positively impacted thousands of patients that have come through the door of her program.

In this next video, Dr. Rab Razzak, Director of Outpatient Palliative Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, discusses how meeting patients earlier can be a great benefit to the patient.

For any step in your journey, resources about palliative care are available at www.getpalliativecare.org. Through this site, you can see if palliative care is right for you or a family member and find out where you can find a team near you so you can get started today.

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