What is Palliative Care?

WHO describes palliative care as an approach that specialists offer to improve the quality of life of patients with long term diseases together with their families. This is through prevention and relief of suffering through early identification and assessment of pain and other problems such as psychosocial and spiritual problems.

What is the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice?

Every time people hear about palliative care, they associate it with hospice care and see it as the last days of a patient’s life.

To correct this notion, “palliative care” and “hospice care” cannot be used as synonyms. There is a clear difference between hospice and palliative care. Hospice is just an example of palliative care that is provided to an individual in their last six months of life. Hence, hospice is basically the end of life care provided to a patient. Traditional palliative care is a supportive care that normally starts in the course of treatments, but it should preferably start at the beginning of treatment.

For a better understanding, we will use an example of patient A, who is diagnosed with breast cancer. The patient is then advised to start chemotherapy and radiation as soon as possible.

The patient understands that the treatment methods can be painful and unbearable at some point. Her doctor refers her to a palliative care for pain management, where she receives treatment for symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and oral thrush (a common mouth yeast infection among chemotherapy patients).

Patient A also has visits from a Medical Social Worker who helps her handle her directives just in case she wakes up one day unable to speak. She also gets visits from a chaplain who talks to her about her theological worries and prays for her.

After three weeks of chemotherapy, patient A breast cancer is still stubborn and has proceeded to advanced cancer stage. She is told she only got six months left to live. She is advised to start hospice care at this juncture. The new team talks to her about the new symptoms and her impending death. This gives the dying patient A, a chance to do all the things she dreamt of, reconcile with her family and die at home within a loving environment. Patient A dies a peaceful death, surrounded by her loved ones.

As you have learned from our illustration, there is time for both palliative care and hospice care, as well as the transition period.

Palliative care improves the quality of life of a patient

Palliative care improves the quality of life of a patient

The Palliative Care Team

As the custom is, different doctors treat different illnesses. For instance, a patient may visit an endocrinologist to manage their sugar levels, a cardiologist for their heart disease and later go to a nephrologist for their kidney problem.

Palliative care specialists are seen as the link between all the teams to bring harmony. A palliative team has several specialists who are committed to enhancing the well-being of the family and the patient.

The palliative care teams include;

  • Specialists or general practitioners
  • Nurses
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapists
  • Chaplains
  • Social worker
  • Palliative care specialists (including pediatric palliative care specialists)
  • Chaplains
Palliative care improves the relationship of a patient with his family.

Palliative care improves the relationship of a patient with his family.

What is Included in Palliative Care?

Palliative treatments are wide thorough. Palliative care provides:

  • Medication
  • Nutritional changes
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Emotional and spiritual support
  • Support for children or family caregivers

Read on to see the different types of palliative care and how they will help you and your loved ones;

Social Help

Sometimes when you are sick, it’s hard to express yourself and say what you need to your family and caregivers. It may be a need to talk about how you are feeling or a ride. A social worker can solve the situation by;

  • Assisting you in planning family meetings
  • Help you organize friends and loved ones who want to help you
  • Help you find services, rides, and medical information.
  • Becoming the connecting link between the patients and family

A social worker can also offer a helping hand to caregivers and family. When they are feeling worked out, they can consult the social worker to help find what they need.

Emotional Support

Having a terminal illness such as cancer makes you feel sad, angry, sadness, and anxiety. This may be hard to cope with alone. It can also be very stressful for your loved ones. In this case, you can talk to your health care team to find you a support group or professional counseling services along with cancer information groups.

Spiritual Support

You might be wondering why you got cancer and are battling with it every day. Alternatively, you might want to find your greater purpose and pursue after surviving cancer. Patients on palliative care are provided social and spiritual support in various forms.

If you belong to a faith community, your religious leader may come to help you figure your purpose and pray with you.

For patients who have no religion, they can get help from a chaplain who takes care of the spiritual needs of all individuals.

Mental Help

Sometimes when you are going through serious illness; the treatment, medications, and symptoms can interfere with your thinking. Sometimes its lack of sleep after long hours of medications while at times it’s the worry of what will happen if the medication doesn’t work that bothers you.

Palliative care provides mental support which includes; counseling, meditation, and exercise and medication for depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorder

The palliative care might also advise you to take up yoga classes, voluntary classes, or any other activities to keep you sane.

Financial Help

When you are suffering from a terminal disease, finances can be very challenging because you are no longer working and you need a lot of money.

Besides the medical costs, you have other expenses such as transport to go to the clinic. In this case, your social worker or financial counselor can help you;

  • Find quality hospitals at lower costs
  • Guide you on billing & health insurance
  • Help you apply for disability payments and a medical leave
  • Talk to your health team about the health care costs

Palliative Care Set-Up

Palliative care for patients can be offered in different settings. It can be in the hospital as a person receives chemotherapy and radiation. Care can be provided on an outpatient basis in a clinic or a nursing home or even as a home care system at the patient’s home, or a relative’s home (known as home palliative care).

Caring includes all of the above mentioned aspects along with palliative medicine, curative treatment and advance care planning.

Whenever the services are offered,  palliative care programs improves quality of life.


Everyone suffering from a terminal illness is eligible to receive palliative care. Being in palliative care does not mean that you will die. It is a chance to get specialized medical care to subsidize the pain that comes with medical procedures.

An individual does not have to be palliative care for a long time; sometimes, after a patient gets better, they can quit the services. Subsequently, a patient may have to proceed with hospice care.

Either way, it will help improve the quality of life of the individual in general. Almost all patients report receiving significant benefit from palliative care.