Categorized | Family Care

Palliative care improves quality of life

By Judith Boyko

More than 1.5 million people in our country die each year as a result of chronic illness. According to “America’s Care of Serious Illness,” a report published by the Center to Advance Palliative Care and the National Palliative Care Research Center, “most people living with a serious illness experience inadequately treated symptoms, fragmented care, poor communication with their doctors and enormous strains on their family caregivers.”

headshot_jboykoBaby boomers are aging at an unprecedented rate. Coupled with increased life expectancies, which will result in more people living longer with at least one chronic illness, the need for palliative care is both understandable and imperative.

Although the number of palliative care programs has significantly increased over the last decade, there are still misconceptions about what it is.

Myth: Palliative care is terminal care.

Truth: Palliative care is focused on improving a patient’s quality of life through pain relief and symptom management.

For many people battling diseases like cancer, end-stage congestive heart failure, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), or end-stage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, palliative care is often the best plan and may be delivered simultaneously with curative treatments.

For example, patients undergoing chemotherapy may experience such side effects as nausea and vomiting, breathing problems, loss of appetite and pain. Palliative care may help to relieve those symptoms and potentially prevent re-hospitalizations.

Colleen E. Gallagher BSN, RN, CHPN, director of special programs and clinical nurse manager at the Natick Visiting Nurse Association, said, “Not only does palliative care provide the comfort a patient requires during an extremely difficult time, but it also reduces the cost of care for patients with chronic or life-limiting illness.”

Myth: Palliative care and hospice care are the same thing.

Truth: Although palliative care and hospice care are both focused on care, there are differences in their delivery.

While palliative care is focused on providing relief from stress and symptoms during serious illness, hospice prepares the patient — and the family — for death.

Typically, hospice care is delivered after a patient has been given a prognosis of less than six months to live and is no longer receiving curative treatments. The focus of hospice care is to enable patients with a terminal illness to experience the end of their lives with dignity, as fully as possible.

Myth: I have to be in the hospital to receive palliative care.

Truth: Palliative care can be delivered/administered where the patient chooses to receive it: at an assisted living facility, nursing home, hospital, doctor’s office, a clinic or in their own home.

Myth: I don’t have a say in the type of care I receive.

Truth: As a specialty, palliative care is delivered by a diverse, interdisciplinary team of professionals — including physicians, nurses, certified home health aides, social workers, physical therapists, spiritual or religious counselors, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and music and art therapists.

They work closely with the patient’s primary doctor, with each other, with the patient and with the patient’s family to ensure that the care begins at the appropriate point of illness and addresses the patient’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs and well being.

Judith Boyko, MBA, MS, RN, is CEO of Century Health Systems, Natick Visiting Nurse Association and New Century Homecare Services. She can be reached at For additional information, visit, or For access to palliative care, hospice care and end-of-life resources, visit and click on the “caregiver resources” tab. 


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