What is Palliative Care? A Caregiver's Guide.

Palliative care (often also called “supportive care”) is a type of specialized care for people with serious, chronic, or life-threatening illnesses. It is a collaborative (interdisciplinary) approach to healthcare centered around improving comfort and quality of life for the individual, their family, and you as their caregiver.


If you have a loved one in your care who has been offered palliative support in Orange County, this article will give you the basics. You should leave this article with an understanding of what it does and why you should consider it.


Note: Palliative care is often confused for hospice or end-of-life comfort care. Due to this confusion, we’ll also dive into the differences between hospice and palliative care later in this article.


What does Palliative Care do?

The World Health Organization explains that the focus of palliative care is to prevent complications and suffering through early identification and ongoing care. It aims to improve the quality of life by offering support, easing pain, and adjusting over time to allow normal activities to resume or continue as much as possible.


In short, palliative care is a healthcare approach that looks at an individual and their life as a whole, instead of just the illness. Early in the process, the individual will be given an assessment to determine the needs that should be considered alongside any curative treatment plan. There are several different types of needs palliative care aims to address that can largely be boiled into two categories:

  • Psychological Stress. It considers the tolls an illness can have on mental health for the individual, their family, and caregivers.

  • Physical Limitations. It considers both the physical limitations of the illness as well as the actual or potential side effects of treatments.

Treatments for these categories will vary by individual, but commonly include relief for:

Physical Pain Points

  • Pain or discomfort

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Lack of appetite

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Sleep problems

Psychological Pain Points

  • Adjusting to and living with the diagnosis of a serious health condition

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Loneliness or need for companionship

  • Financial stress

What are the benefits of palliative care?

  • Opportunity for involvement (in the type and amount of care). This type of care provides an opportunity for your loved one to take control of their treatment in some aspects. It offers a chance to communicate long-term goals and steer the direction of what would offer comfort.

  • Support for the family caregiver. Palliative care also offers an opportunity to relieve the stress on the caregiver by coordinating their care with professionals. This open communication often reduces unnecessary hospital trips and gives you more day-to-day support.

  • Longer life expectancy. A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine found that terminally ill patients who received palliative care had a higher quality of life and life expectancy than those who received standard care. For those who were not terminally ill, they often enjoyed a quicker recovery time and higher rates of satisfaction with their level of care.

  • Shared decision-making. Palliative care is carried about by an interdisciplinary team of health professionals who work together to come to better treatment conclusions. They also offer a more well-rounded support system by considering the people around the individual: their family and caregivers.

How does palliative care compare to hospice care?

To provide palliative care, a patient will be overseen by a specialized set of doctors and nurses who work together to create a comfort plan. Palliative care is often confused with end-of-life care. That is not always the case: it can be and often is effectively paired with curative treatment plans. Let’s describe the two separately to clear up any confusion:

  • Hospice care is a form of palliative care designed for end-of-life comfort. It is reserved for when treating/curing a disease or ailment is no longer an option or goal. It is typically prescribed for people who are terminally ill with 6 months or fewer of expected life remaining.

  • Palliative care in its other forms, on the other hand, might be prescribed alongside any number of curable or chronic ailments.

Some examples include cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, kidney disease treatments, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) management or treatments, Alzheimer’s disease (or other forms of dementia) management, HIV/AIDs, liver failure, lung disease, etc.


Put simply, hospice care is a form of palliative care, but palliative care is offered in different forms, not always for terminal disease management.


Closing Thoughts

Palliative care is a relatively new approach to healthcare in the US that seeks to take a holistic view of a sick individual. It considers their personal needs, (both psychological and physical) as well as their caregivers and families who are too often forgotten in the traditional disease-management process.


If you still have questions about this type of care or want more information throughout your journey as a caregiver, CRCOC is here to help.


Check out our free resources for family caregivers by clicking here or give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you.