I first found out about palliative care back when Calvin was getting ready to go home from the hospital for the last time. Originally, the doctor suggested ‘Palliative Care’ for him upon discharge. I had never heard of such a thing before, so naturally, like you, I had some questions.
What is Palliative Care?
Anyone who is nearing the end of their life, that is they have a a chronic illness or in need of pain and symptom management, is eligible for palliative care support services. Palliative care is a service that is offered by health care agencies, many of which are also hospice providers. It is often covered both by Medicare and Medicaid, as well as private insurance.
The goal of palliative care is to allow people with a life-threatening illness earlier access to the same type of care that hospice patients receive. Even though they have the same goals of helping people have quality of life and live comfortably, palliative care is different from hospice.
Palliative care goes with you wherever you go, so it can be provided in a hospital, at home, in assisted living or a long-term care facility.
When you start receiving palliative care, you get a nurse practitioner and a social worker. The nurse practitioner comes out and checks on your loved one each month (or more as needed). If you are concerned about your loved one, but not sure if they need medical care, they can help you triage what’s going on and even come out and check on them. They can order any tests or labs that need to be done (This really excited me considering the increased risks of UTIs for older people).
You are assigned a social worker who can help you navigate supports for your loved one. They can help you discuss difficult decisions and think through end of life planning. If you don’t have a DNR established, they can help you take care of that as well. The social worker my grandma has literally just offered to come over and sit down and call up her long term care insurance company with me. How cool is that?!
These two people work with a palliative care physician and your existing health care providers to make sure your loved one is receiving the very best care. It’s like your very own care coordination team!
Who can receive Palliative Care?
Ultimately, Calvin went home with hospice, but I found out after my grandma’s last hospitalization that she qualified for Palliative Care. My ears perked right up, because I knew exactly what they meant!
If your loved one has a condition that causes long-term pain and discomfort and/or for a chronic illness that causes periodic symptoms, like:
- Heart Disease/CHF
- Respiratory Disease/COPD
- Renal Disease/Failure
- Chronic Liver Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Stroke (CVA)
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
You may want to consider starting palliative care. Your person does not have to be dying or shut-in, they simply have to be dealing with symptoms of a chronic condition. Since my grandma has Alzheimer’s, she qualifies for palliative care.
What’s the difference between palliative and hospice care?
If you start researching palliative care providers in your area, you might find that a number of them are primarily hospice providers. Hospice providers are one of the primary providers of palliative care services in the country. The idea is that by offering both palliative care and hospice care, seniors and families will have a seamless continuum of care over the course of a serious illness. The goal of palliative care is to allow people with a life-threatening illness earlier access to the same type of care that hospice patients receive. Even though they have the same goals of helping people who are aging or dealing with illness live comfortably, palliative care is different from hospice. Palliative care is about maintaining a quality of life, where hospice care is about helping people through the end of life process.
If you haven’t looked into hospice, either, you totally need to! It is an essential support for any caregiver to know about!
Palliative care is already a lifesaver for us! I recently called them freaking out about my grandma’s stoma output, and they helped me triage the issue and think through it rationally before rushing her to the emergency room.
If you think your loved one is eligible for palliative care, the first step is talking with your loved one’s primary care physician. They can write a referral for palliative care for you. They can also usually tell you what providers are in your area. You then choose a provider that will accept your caree’s health care coverage and get the ball rolling with them.
(PS – If the phrase “end of life” kinda scares you, you might have a few issues to work out – Trust me, I was there, too. If you want, we can talk about it. Contact me!)