For those with a chronic illness, palliative care may be the key to getting the most out of life.

Getting a diagnosis of a chronic, life-changing illness can be a real emotional blow.  The actual diagnosis usually comes after a long process of dealing with disturbing symptoms, visiting various medical specialists, and undergoing countless diagnostic tests.  In the end, instead of pointing toward a cure that would allow life to return to normal, the result is that there is no cure. The diagnosis may not be considered terminal, but by definition the chronic illness will require life-long treatment.  So the journey to finding a new “normal” begins.

Managing disease symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, fatigue, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, nausea, etc. is only part of meeting the needs of the ill person.  Often traditional allopathic treatments have physical and psychological consequences that are as emotionally disturbing and as functionally or socially disruptive as the disease itself.  Palliative care is a holistic approach that involves a team of professionals from different fields in responding to the patient’s physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs as the disease progresses.  The care team can include physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, chaplains, and physical, occupational, and speech therapists.  For patients, holistic care means attending to the challenges that illness poses in every aspect of life.  It also means that palliative care extends to family members and caregivers.  Support services may include educating family members about the patient’s illness, treatment, and medications; respite care for caregivers; and home help with transportation, meals, and shopping.

Diagnoses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), etc. are candidates for palliative care.  The best way to get palliative care is to talk frankly with your physician or other health care providers.  Many hospitals, home health agencies, or private physicians offer palliative care team approaches to treating chronic illness.  Palliative care is covered by most insurance providers, but it is always wise to check the details of your specific plan.

For more information about palliative care, visit the website of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.  This nonprofit organization is committed to enhancing quality of life by improving end of life care and expanding access to hospice and palliative care services nationwide.  They provide resources for caregivers, individuals struggling with grief and bereavement, and those in need of palliative care, as well as access to research and tools for finding care providers.

As advocates for clients with chronic diseases, helping arrange for palliative care is just one of the ways our Elder Care Coordinators at Elder Law of East Tennessee help enhance clients’ quality of life.  Contact us if you or your loved one need help with accessing the care you need.