This week I was talking with a patient with malignant pleural mesothelioma and he had various concerns. I asked him if he had ever talked to a palliative care specialist. “I am not dying anytime soon!,” was his response. There is a lot of confusion of the difference between palliative care and hospice care.
The goal of palliative care is to support the family and patient, who is living with a serious illness. Palliative care can start at diagnosis, it has been found to be most effective when it starts at the beginning of your journey. It can exist simultaneously with treatment to a cure for your serious illness. It is an approach to living, usually supported by a team of palliative care specialists, that concentrates on the quality of life of the patient and family. It concentrates on relieving the suffering and preventing any problems from interfering with the patient‘s and family’s well-being.
The palliative approach includes dealing with physical, emotional, and practical issues. It helps patients and families better understand a disease as complex as mesothelioma. Studies have shown that there is less pain and depression experienced when palliative care is involved. Symptoms that can be treated include shortness of breath, nausea, anxiety, depression and severe constipation, and patients are better able to tolerate their treatments. This approach aims to enhance living by offering a support system and expertise. It regards death as a normal process, and concentrates on supporting the patient to living their best life possible.
Hospice care is designed to provide supportive care in the final phase of life. Hospice is the caring for a dying patient. In order to be a hospice candidate, you must have a physician state that you have less than six months to live. Research studies continue to show that hospice patients live longer than those who do not receive hospice. A study done in 2007 showed that people who were involved with hospice lived, on average, 29 days longer than their counterparts who were not involved with hospice. Cancer is the leading diagnosis that hospice serves. The hospice benefit was created by Congress in 1982, as Medicare is the primary source of payment.
There are services that can help the mesothelioma patient and family live their best possible life while dealing with all the ramifications of being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Do not overlook the support that palliative care and hospice can add when the time is right.