Most of us don’t think about palliative care until someone that we love needs it. In some ways, this is natural. No-one likes to think about their own mortality and it is even harder to imagine someone close to us suffering. That said, there are many reasons to talk about death, even if we are not yet directly impacted by it.
At Sixty and Me, we talk frequently about death and dying. It’s not that we are trying to be morbid. We simply realize that coming to terms with our mortality is an important part of life after 60.
In addition, now that we are a little older, many women in our community know people who are suffering from serious illnesses. Many of these people will eventually need palliative care.
But, what exactly is palliative care? More importantly, how can it help to improve the quality of life for terminally ill patients?
These are two of the questions that I raised when I talked with Claire Henry, CEO of the UK-based National Council for Palliative Care. I hope that you find our interview useful and inspiring.
At its core, palliative care is all about improving the quality of life of a person whose life is coming to an end. Palliative care is an approach that can be applied at any point after a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness.
Hospices tend to care for patients towards the end of their lives, but, they often apply the same caring approach. As you can see, the two concepts are very closely related.
Most terminally ill patients want to die at home. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, this is often not possible.
Hospices do their best to make the patients’ lives comfortable. They also help loved ones to come to terms with losing someone close to them so that they can begin the grieving process.
There is a misconception that hospices are dark, hopeless places. Clair argues that this perception is changing. She points out that, at least in the UK, palliative care is focused on improving the quality of life of its patients. Many people are coming to realize that hospices can offer a much needed foundation, when everything else seems to be falling apart.
Here are 5 ways that Claire says palliative care improves patients’ lives.
As a medical professional, it is easy to get in the habit of treating all of your patients in a consistent way. In some ways, this is a good thing. You certainly want to make sure that each patient is given the best chance of recovery.
On the other hand, while illnesses may express themselves in similar ways, the way that patients respond to them are quite different. As a result, it is important for them to be treated as individuals.
When it comes to palliative care, the small things matter. Letting someone wear the clothes they love, eat the foods they enjoy and listen to their favorite music can make all the difference in the world.
People don’t stop being people just because they are dying. They still love their hobbies. They enjoy reading their favorite books and talking with their friends and family.
Giving patients access to their loved ones is one of the kindest and most important things we can do for them.
Palliative care professionals can help family members to deal with the strong emotions that they are feeling. This allows everyone to get the most from their time together.
Palliative care also extends to the family and friends of the patient. Many people are dealing with the loss of a loved one for the first time. As a result, they are being forced to come to terms with confusing emotions, in addition to the prospect of losing a spouse, friend or family member.
Hospice team members can provide an important point of stability. They can help family members to come to terms with their emotions and understand what their loved one is going through.
Palliative care is not just about ensuring the physical comfort of patients. Claire mentioned several occasions in which hospice staff have been able to help patients connect with their talents and find new meaning in their lives.
Palliative care can manage pain and reduce medical symptoms, but, it can also help patients to express themselves. It can help them to live their dreams at a time when they need them most.
Palliative care is designed to help the whole person. In today’s digital world, this also means helping patients to stay connected through social media.
Sites like Dying Matters encourage patients to use social media to connect with friends and family.
I personally have several friends who are using social media in this way. Every update they give makes me feel connected to them. It also allows me to reach out and lend support whenever I see an opportunity to do so.
Do you know someone who is struggling with a serious illness? Have you had any experiences with palliative care or hospices? What advice would you give to someone who is caring for a loved one with a terminal illness? Please join the conversation.