How to maintain comfort during chronic illness

ByNicole M. Clagett WTVD logo
Thursday, April 5, 2018

It is not easy to think of a loved one having to face daunting treatments, therapies, and pain during a serious illness.

The good news is there is help out there. Palliative care, more commonly known as "comfort care" aims to help keep your loved one as comfortable as possible while going through the course of their treatment.

The word "palliative" means to relieve or sooth the symptoms of a disease or disorder without effecting a cure. Palliative care is considered "consultative" and can take place wherever your loved one calls home whether it is in a residential home, a facility, or even a hospital.

Many insurances cover this type of care and the co-pay is similar to what you would expect with a typical doctor visit.

A palliative care team typically consists of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and other professionals who oversee the ongoing comfort of their patients.

They typically consult with the primary care physician and other specialists and make suggestions about maintaining quality of life and what can be done to create comfort. Patients can receive palliative care at any time and at any stage of their illness and even if the patient is still seeking curative or aggressive measures to treat their disease.

Palliative care teams treat people suffering from many serious disease types and chronic illnesses, including but not limited to cancer, cardiac disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, and more.

Focusing on the symptoms of both the disease and the treatment, palliative care helps your loved one with a wide range of issues, including pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, shortness of breath, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. Palliative care may also improve your loved one's ability to tolerate medical treatments and, as mentioned above it helps you have more control over your care by improving your understanding of your choices for treatment.

Palliative care teams intentionally have time built into their schedules to allow for deep and meaningful conversations with patients and their families. These teams also help family caregivers with referrals to community resources to bolster the support. Those who receive palliative care often report that they experience an increase in their quality of life by working with a care team that not only treats current symptoms but is specifically trained to anticipate, prevent, and manage suffering.

Palliative care teams often have a gentle way to start the conversation about the future course of your loved one's disease process. After all, most physicians are trained to prevent and cure illnesses and it is very hard to deliver the news that a disease will continually decrease quality of life. To make matters more difficult, here in the Triangle we are surrounded with amazing medical institutions and wonderful teaching hospitals.

There is always another clinical trial to test and sometimes it is hard to figure out when the conversation should switch from curative to more of a maintenance approach.

Learn more about how palliative care helps when you and your family are facing a serious illness by contacting Transitions GuidingLights. They would be glad to provide you with a referral to an appropriative palliative care provider in your area.

If you find yourself needing to have this type of conversation with a loved one, join our online community of caregivers to continue this conversation. We have more than 200 family caregivers supporting each other and sharing resources.