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What does palliative mean?

What does palliative mean?

The term palliative is derived from the greek term Palliativ, which means to ease suffering. This is essentially what palliative means and if we combine this with the word care, we have the idea that we ease the suffering of someone while we take care of them. Technically you do not have to be dying to receive palliative care - people on burn units receive symptom management to ease their suffering while they heal, for example. But palliative care typically is used in an end-of-life context and it simply means that you cannot be cured of what you have, but that you can receive care that eases your symptoms until you do succumb to your condition. - Getting a palliative care diagnosis does not mean you are dying tomorrow or next week but it does mean your condition is something that is life-limiting and perhaps will be what you die of.

Getting a palliative care diagnosis is a little more tricky. In Canada and Saskatchewan, this is due to the fact that a palliative care diagnosis is linked to the palliative care benefit program (run provincially). Similar to any drug program or dental programs where free services can be accessed, certain criteria need to be met in order for you to receive a palliative care diagnosis and start accessing free incontinence products or certain drug regimens etc. Depending on your diagnosis, you may require palliative care, but your condition or diagnosis may have to progress further before you receive a palliative care benefit. Confusing, right?

The best way to sort this out is to contact the physician who is taking care of you, whether it be your family doctor or specialist. They can determine where you stand in relation to a palliative care diagnosis. It is often helpful for patients to bring this up and even doctors worry about frightening or worrying people in their care. Starting a conversation with your doctor is helpful for everyone.

Palliative care refers to a kind of medical care meant to provide relief from serious illness. The entire goal of a palliative care team is to reduce suffering, improve quality of life, and aid in healthcare decisions for both the patients and their families.

Palliative care is meant for those living with a serious chronic or terminal illness and patients can receive palliative care at any stage during their illness.  Patients know they are palliative at the point where the emotional and/or physical pain of their illness is too much to bear without external help. Therefore the decision to enter palliative care is more intuitive and based on the feelings of the patient, their loved ones and the recommendations of their healthcare professional.

When considering palliative care patients must understand that it is an overarching field and not simply a single treatment plan. Subcategories of palliative care that might interest patients include,

  • Hospice

  • Advance care planning

  • End of life Care

  • and more

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