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To Your Health: Palliative care may extend life expectancy

Dr. Mark F. Kozloff  |  Supplied photo

Dr. Mark F. Kozloff | Supplied photo

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Updated: July 19, 2014 6:13AM



Pain, discomfort and emotional distress are just a few of the issues patients diagnosed with a serious illness may face.

For the palliative care specialist, improving quality of life is paramount. Yet few people fully understand the benefits of palliative care services.

Not only can palliative or comfort care relieve symptoms, it may even extend a patient’s life expectancy.

In fact, in a randomized study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients with non-small-cell lung cancer who received palliative care lived an average of three months longer than those who hadn’t received palliative care. In addition, these patients reported an improved quality of life through the final course of their illness, proving that palliative care is a powerful, important part of the treatment process.

What is palliative care? For starters, palliative care is not hospice care. Hospice care provides care at the end of life for people with a terminal illness or a chronic illness not amenable to curative treatment.

Palliative care is specialized care focused on comfort and relieving any distressing symptom related to terminal or chronic illness. While hospice care always involves palliative (or pain-relieving) care, you may receive palliative care at any stage of disease.

The goal of palliative care is to relieve suffering and provide relief for symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, difficulty sleeping and anxiety (just to name a few). Palliative care is also concerned with providing the best possible quality of life for people facing the pain, symptoms and stresses of serious illness. It is appropriate at any age and at any phase of an illness, and it can be provided along with treatments that are meant to cure a person’s disease.

Offering a holistic approach to managing illness, palliative care includes physical, psychosocial, spiritual and advanced decision-making services. It can be delivered in the home, hospital, long-term facility or nursing home.

To provide the best customized plan of care, the palliative care advanced practice nurse works collaboratively with the patient’s medical team.

Ingalls Palliative Care works with a patient’s attending physician to support both patients and their families, helping them make decisions that are consistent with their goals of care. And they look at the patient and family as a whole in order to accommodate their needs.

When palliative care staff first visit with a patient and family, they ask, “If you felt better, what would you want to do?”

Although patients may have lofty dreams of traveling to faraway destinations, most of them want to return to doing routine things such as attending church, playing bridge or working on needlepoint. Whatever it may be, that defined goal becomes the very first objective of care.

Palliative care staff also try to learn as much as they can about a patient. For instance, if a patient has had a bad experience with pain medications, Ingalls Palliative Care staff will work with them and help them understand how effective these medications can be when used properly.

Palliative care also supports the patients’ families and educates them on the importance of reporting any changes in their loved one’s health or behavior. They teach family members how to keep their loved one safe; help them cope with their loved one’s illness; and offer important resources to help prevent caregiver “burnout.” Ingalls Palliative Care also helps patients and families navigate the health care system by assisting with coordination of care and offering suggestions on community resources.

Sometimes palliative care services may be as simple as helping families identify things they might normally overlook, such as taking the knobs off the oven to prevent a dementia patient from trying to cook — a potentially deadly situation.

If you or a loved is facing a serious illness, Ingalls Palliative Care can support you every step of the way, regardless of the stage of your illness. While we understand that there is always hope for a cure, we know that managing a patient’s pain and helping them make lifestyle modifications can lead to a better quality of life.

At Ingalls Palliative Care, the goal is to help every patient live out each day to the best of their ability, and provide them with the tools necessary to reach their individual goals.

For more information about the Ingalls Home Care home-based Palliative Care program, call (708) 331-0226. Ingalls Home Care serves all of Cook County south of 67th Street and all of Will County east of Route 53.

Dr. Mark F. Kozloff is an oncologist/hematologist on staff at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, and medical director of Ingalls Cancer Care. Ingalls Health System is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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