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September 21, 2017

Some Insight into Palliative Care
Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle
?by Cheryl Thompson, NP for Care Dimensions

?As a resident of Hamilton, I wanted to reach out to fellow members of our community who might need some information and insight about palliative care. I’m a Nurse Practitioner and firmly believe that it is important that families facing serious illness understand that there are services available to help them cope and manage pain and symptoms. These services can also help to ease stress for families and improve overall quality of life.

I have seen first-hand the benefits of introducing a palliative care program to patients with serious illness. Palliative Care is specialized medical care focused on improving the quality of life for people affected by serious illness. In its most basic form, it is a plan that can help you and your loved ones to live with the illness by helping to best manage pain, stress and symptoms. In my line of work, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of people who don’t realize that working simultaneously with your primary care doctor and the right health care professionals in our community can tremendously improve quality of life.

As an example, one of our patients is a lovely 75-year-old woman who has been living with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) for many years. Recently, her health started to drastically decline, and she began to feel progressively worse - to the point that she needed to wear oxygen continuously. As you can imagine, this sudden change in her health affected other parts of her life as well. 

With the constant need for oxygen, this patient was no longer able to participate in simple every day activities because of constant shortness of breath. Naturally, her anxiety levels increased and she worried that she would not be able catch her breath - which can be a scary feeling.

A team of palliative care professionals at Care Dimensions, where I work as a nurse practitioner, met with the patient to discuss her hopes and goals for current and future care. One of our staff doctors evaluated her symptoms and made recommendations that were then discussed with her primary care physician. Working together on the patient’s behalf, a comprehensive, coordinated, patient- and family-centered plan of care was developed that helped to address pain and symptom management, as well as the stress associated with the patient’s disease. With this assistance, the patient’s symptoms were regulated and she was once again able to take part in activities that were important to her.

Many known conditions can be helped with palliative care including: cancer, cardiac or pulmonary disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and a variety of other serious illnesses. Palliative care is right at any stage of a serious illness and can be provided together with curative treatments. If you are still unclear if a palliative care program can help you or a loved one living with a serious illness, consider these important guidelines:
 

  • Do you have uncontrolled symptoms that are affecting your quality of life?
  • Are you experiencing emotional, psychological or spiritual distress due to your illness?
  • Do you go to the emergency room more frequently due to your illness?
  • Have you been admitted to the hospital multiple times over a short period of time?
  • Are you experiencing depression, stress or anxiety about your illness?
  • Is more and more support required from your family?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, palliative care can certainly help. And palliative care consultations are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid.

I hope I’ve helped to educate and provide some insight to help our community to better understand how palliative care can help manage a serious illness. Palliative care can also help ease the transition to hospice care when that is appropriate and needed.  I felt it was part of my calling as a nurse to let people know that there are professional, local resources that are readily available to help families to cope with a serious illness, better manage symptoms and pain, and improve overall quality of life for both patient and family.

If you would like to learn more about palliative care, I urge you to visit CareDimensions.org or www.NHPCO.org.

Be well,
Cheryl Thompson
Hospice & Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner
Care Dimensions

 


Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.