LA CROSSE, Wis. — Many people think hospice and palliative care come at the end of life, and while both often play a key role then, palliative care also can provide pain relief, symptom control, emotional comfort and spiritual support as patients recover from serious illnesses. National Hospice Palliative Care Month is held in November to educate physicians and patients and their families about hospice care, palliative care and their similarities and differences. Donna Kamann, a palliative care nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, explains these growing and evolving medical specialties and how they can help patients and their loved ones.
At Mayo, for example, palliative care teams include physicians, advanced-practice nurses, chaplains, licensed clinical social workers, pharmacists and physical and occupational therapists. Starting with their individual expertise, the members build a care plan that carefully considers each patient's unique needs. Palliative care can segue into hospice care if the illness becomes terminal.
"Respecting the desires of patients — as well as their families and their caregivers — palliative care seeks to improve quality of life in the face of serious illness," Kamann says. "Palliative care treats people suffering from serious and chronic illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and many more."
Palliative care is available at any time during a serious or life-threatening illness, while hospice care is available only during the final months of life — when curative or life-prolonging treatments have been stopped. Hospice care can be provided at home or on an in-patient basis. Roughly 1.6 million people with life-limiting illness receive care from U.S. hospice or palliative care providers, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
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