Pediatric vs. Adult Palliative Care

People who care for ill children know that their needs are very different from those of adult patients. As anyone who works in pediatrics knows, children are not simply little adults!

Children experience a variety of complex illnesses that are not seen in adults. Even illnesses that are seen in adults can act differently in children because of their unique anatomy and physiology. Children are also growing and developing as they go through an illness. Therefore, all specialized medical care, including palliative care, must be tailored to meet the needs of infants, children and adolescents.

Palliative care can be helpful to all people living with a serious illness and at any stage of their disease. This is particularly the case in children, because they are resilient in illness in ways that adults are not.

Similarities include:

  • Palliative care can start at the beginning of an illness and be given along with treatment meant to cure.
  • Palliative care aims to improve quality of life by relieving distressing symptoms.
  • The team helps with decision making and figuring out care goals.
  • Palliative care is medical care but it also involves a team of different disciplines that includes doctors, nurses, social workers and others.

Differences include:

  • Having a serious illness is not a “normal” condition for most children. This presents unique challenges in caring for the children and their families.
  • Medical decisions for young children are usually made by their family caregivers. Adult patients may make their own decisions.
  • Pediatric palliative care can also involve a play therapist, child life therapist and/or child behavioral specialist.