Palliative care is often misunderstood as simply a way to manage the last weeks of life.
This evolving discipline, however, is much more than that. It’s a focused treatment offered by a specialized team: doctor, nurse, social worker, often working alongside pharmacists, nutritionists and counsellors.
The mandate of the team is broad – and includes helping caregivers contend with the emotional stress of a loved one’s illness – but pain management and symptom relief for the patient are priorities.
Why palliative care early
“Originally, palliative care focused entirely on the last weeks of life,” says Dr. Romayne Gallagher, Physician Program Director, Palliative Care Program at Providence Health in Vancouver. Gallagher started in family medicine nearly three decades ago and moved into palliative care about 12 years ago.
“We now know the earlier you introduce palliative care, the better family satisfaction and the shorter the length of stay in hospital. There are also studies showing patients live longer if they get palliative care,” Gallagher says.
Palliative services often require a doctor’s referral, but if your loved one has a long-term illness, such as Alzheimer’s, you should be proactive and ask their physician about palliative services early.
Providence Health Care is a collection of hospitals, clinics and residences in British Columbia. Its palliative services are offered not just to patients in their long-term facilities, but to those who come to emergency departments and then return home, as well as those who need to be admitted for short stays.
“We’re [the Palliative Care Team] constantly trying to sell ourselves,” says Gallagher. “I try to explain to patients and families that I’m here to help you live as well as you can for as long as you can. People are afraid to see us because they think ‘maybe I’m sicker than I thought and the docs haven’t told me.’ ” That is simply not the case.
About the author