Here at Every Stage of Life: Understanding Palliative Care

When it comes to advanced illnesses, many patients might wonder, “What’s next for me?,” while their families ask, “What else can we do for the person we love?” There’s support for these types of challenges, and one option is palliative care.

What is palliative care? Kristen Genevro, Manager of Home Health and Hospice with Penn Highlands Community Nurses, explains. “Palliative care is advanced care provided to patients in their home when they have either advanced illness or multiple health issues occurring at once,” Genevro says. “We offer care from several different services including nurses, therapists, aides, and social workers.”

Palliative care supports patients with an advanced illness who are not expected to recover. This service is based on the patient’s needs with the goal to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family. Patients and families also receive emotional, spiritual, and counseling support.

According to the World Health Organization, palliative care is clearly recognized under the human right to health. With our Palliative Care program, Penn Highlands Community Nurses can provide extra support to patients and their families to ease the challenges faced by declining chronic conditions. Palliative care includes a variety of services provided by an array of professionals who all have an equally important role to play. Genevro says, “We educate the patient and family involved with the care. We determine with the patient and family how they want to be cared for. We provide symptom management to make sure that we achieve the highest quality of life. We also keep in close communication with the patient’s physician.”

Palliative treatment helps relieve suffering, and studies have shown that patients receiving palliative care may live longer than patients who do not. The Palliative Care team helps to ensure doctors, patients, and family members understand what the patient wants so that all individuals involved are on the same page with the care the patient wishes. Palliative care helps to match treatment choices to patient goals.

When should patients and families consider palliative care? Each year, roughly 40 million people worldwide are in need of it, but only 14 percent of those who need this service receive it, according to the World Health Organization. “Palliative care should be considered when there is a decline in chronic conditions or frequent hospitalizations, patients who have had two or more admissions to the hospital within the last six months,” says Genevro. However, palliative care can begin at any stage, even as soon as a diagnosis is received. Patients and families do not have to wait until the disease reaches advanced stages.

Patients in palliative care have a choice of being in control of their care and can continue to receive treatment. Some of the most common conditions include cancer, heart failure, lung disease, kidney or liver failure, ALS, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease, but are not limited to these. The earlier palliative care is chosen, the better to help ease stresses and help with coping. Early delivery of palliative care also reduces unnecessary admissions to the hospital and the use of health services.

For more information about Palliative Care or to see if you or your loved one may be a candidate, please contact your family physician. One of our home health nurses will visit your home for an assessment at no cost. You can call 800-841-9397 or visit our website at