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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Palliative Care: Easing Into the Closure of Life

Jan 26, 2017 12:14AM ● By Sheila Julson

For centuries, many cultures have viewed death as a natural progression in the cycle of life. Through newer care models such as palliative care, modern American society is shifting from shying away from discussion of serious illness or death, and moving toward honest, realistic conversation, thus humanizing our system by incorporating compassionate components needed to best serve patients and their families.

Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach to caring for people with serious illnesses. The care model manages pain and symptoms, but it also focuses on the whole person by addressing any distress that a patient has surrounding an illness. Unlike hospice, which is reserved for patients with less than six months to live, palliative care moves the hospice model upstream because it can be involved any time during the course of an illness—from diagnosis to end of life. Palliative care is a full medical specialty consisting of specialized medical training and a board exam.

Dr. Andrew Probolus of Hospice & Community Care is a physician fellowship director in hospice and palliative medicine. “What I’ve found during the course of my career in medicine is that there’s always just one more thing we can do, or one more thing to try, especially when it comes to life prolongation,” he says. “But sometimes it’s difficult for seriously ill people to weigh out whether it’s worth it to go for that one more thing that has its own set of side effects, or to take a step back and decide not to do that. I think many people want to not have their lives prolonged at any and all cost, but instead are interested in options that will allow them to live well. Palliative care really addresses that concern.”

A palliative care team includes a medical clinician such as a physician or nurse practitioner, a social worker or counselor, a spiritual care provider and others to offer a multidimensional approach to address physical and emotional comfort for the patient, their families and caregivers.

“Often families are watching their loved ones suffer, and they’re not sure what they can do about it or how to best advocate for them,” says Probolus. “They have their own emotional reactions to what’s happening, so we bring people together with their families and ask ‘What’s really happening here, and what can we do to provide the best care for this person?’”

Dr. Kristina Newport, director of outpatient palliative care at Hospice & Community Care, notes that palliative care, which sprung from the hospice model, has grown over the last decade. “Fortunately within the past 10 years, we have accumulating evidence to show that when you care for the whole person, they do better, and the living and dying experiences are better when we don’t just focus on their medical problems,” she says.

Both Newport and Probolus emphasize that palliative care is one area where recognizing caregivers is important and valuable. Benefits for patients include improved control of symptoms such as pain and nausea, as well as depression and anxiety. “We see improvements in quality of life and patient satisfaction, and improvements in a new measure called quality of death, making sure people are as comfortable as they can be physically but also psychologically and emotionally at the end of life,” Newport says.

Newport notes that Lancaster County is fortunate to have palliative care resources in the area compared to other parts of the state. She expresses optimism that palliative care will continue to grow in the U.S. “I’m hopeful that it will result in people having a more comprehensive care for all illnesses and that the medical system will embrace more of these things we know about spirituality and emotional needs, and incorporate it into medical care.”

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