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What is palliative care?

Palliative care supports patients and families.

Palliative care, or comfort care, helps improve quality of life and relieve symptoms for people who have serious, chronic medical illnesses. This type of care focuses on decreasing pain and suffering by providing comfort, support and treatments to help relieve symptoms.

Palliative care uses a team approach that involves doctors, family, social services and other healthcare professionals.

Hospice care, which can be an important part of palliative care, involves helping terminally ill people and their families during the last period of life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, palliative care services may include:

  • Managing pain by finding the source and relieving it.
  • Managing symptoms by relieving problems such as nausea, weakness, bowel and bladder problems, confusion, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.
  • Supporting the person emotionally and spiritually.
  • Changing the environment to make the person more comfortable. This can include elements such as lighting and music and activities such as reading aloud.
  • Educating the family about the illness, and teaching them how to give medications and recognize symptoms that might require immediate medical attention.
  • Providing home support services, such as transportation, shopping and making meals.
  • Providing support to the caregiver through respite care.
  • Helping with financial planning.

Providing this care often requires a team of health professionals. Typical members of this team include:

  • Doctors.
  • Nurses.
  • Social workers.
  • Home health aides.
  • Pharmacists.
  • Chaplains.
  • Physical and occupational therapists.
  • Trained volunteers.

Reviewed 11/28/2023

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