What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is for people of any age, and at any stage of serious illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic, or life threatening.

Palliative care is the relieving or soothing of symptoms of a disease or disorder while maintaining the highest possible quality of life for patients of all ages and with all conditions.

Many people mistakenly believe you receive palliative care only when you can’t be cured. Actually, palliative care can be provided alongside cure-directed therapies. 

Palliative care may actually help you cope with your illness by relieving symptoms—such as pain, anxiety, or loss of appetite—as you undergo sometimes-difficult medical treatments or procedures, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Eligibility

Palliative care is for people of any age and at any stage of a serious illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic, or life-threatening. If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of a complex disease or disorder, be sure to ask your current physician if a palliative care consult might be helpful. Financial coverage for palliative care varies.

Receiving Care

Palliative care providers are specially trained. They may provide palliative care through a hospital, hospice program, or both, and you can receive palliative care at a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility, or your home. To best meet your needs, palliative care uses a team approach. The team typically includes a palliative doctor, nurses, social workers, and other medical and nonmedical professionals and volunteers.The overall goal of palliative care is to improve you and your family's quality of life while you are ill. Research shows that people often live longer when they receive palliative care along with other treatments that are targeted at their illness.

Palliative Care for Children

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 illness. Therefore, all specialized medical care, including palliative care, must be tailored to meet the needs of infants, children and teenagers.

Palliative care for children aims to:

  • Help children and families identify, prevent and treat stress and symptoms across every stage of disease

  • Limit a child’s suffering and improve their quality of life, despite the effects of their disease

  • Explore the hopes of our children and their families in order to set realistic goals for care

  • Partner with community programs and identify resources for children and families

  • Can help coordinating care with child's primary and specialty physicians as well as with community/home providers

Like adult palliative care, pediatric palliative care can take place in a hospital, clinic, or community-based setting.  It is provided by a trained team of pediatric experts who think about the mind, body, and spirit of the child and caring for all of the family during serious illness.  Most often that team includes a doctor, a specialized nurse, a social worker, and other support staff.  Palliative care for children also includes Prenatal Counseling and development of birth plans and Perinatal Care Coordination when it is anticipated in the perinatal period that the unborn child may have a serious illness.

Differences between adult and pediatric palliative care include:

  • Serious illness is not a “normal” condition for most children. This presents unique challenges in caring for seriously ill children and their families.

  • Medical decisions for young children are usually made by their parents or guardians. Adult patients may make their own decisions. 

  • Pediatric palliative care can also involve a play therapist, child life therapist and/or child behavioral expert.

Examples of Some Serious Illness Conditions that may benefit from Palliative Care (including but not limited to):

Children

  • Cancer

  • Genetic disorders

  • Prematurity

  • Neurologic disorders

  • Congenital or acquired heart and lung conditions

Adults

  • Cancer

  • Heart or Lung Failure (e.g. congestive heart failure or emphysema)

  • Neurologic disorders (e.g. stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease)