Is Palliative Care Right for You?

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Think of palliative care as a support system for someone dealing with a serious illness. The palliative care team helps with everything from coordinating appointments to managing physical symptoms like pain or constipation to helping manage stress and anxiety. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself (or a loved one) to help you decide if palliative care could help:

1. Do you have a serious illness?

If you are diagnosed with a serious illness—any disease that can or will ultimately be something that could threaten your life or severely affects your quality of life—you should ask your medical provider about palliative care right away, says Andrew Esch, MD, Palliative Care Medical Education Consultant for the Center to Advance Palliative Care and a palliative care specialist in Buffalo, New York. “By paying attention as close to diagnosis as possible, we can prevent a lot of suffering.”

Some of the diseases or conditions that might be helped include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Dementia
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Stroke

2. Have you started visiting the emergency room often as a result of dealing with your illness?

If you’re in the ER a lot because of problems with your illness or treatment, your needs are not being met. Maybe the spouse or family member acting as your primary caregiver at home is struggling. Maybe there are physical symptoms associated with your illness, like pain, fatigue, or constipation, that aren’t being treated. 

3. Are you having trouble paying your medical or other bills?

Getting sick is expensive. With it comes not only hefty medical bills, but other costs that may be unrelated to the disease itself. You may find yourself ordering more prepared food because you have less energy to cook for yourself—or you may now need to pay someone to help clean the house. The palliative care team can help connect you to resources that can help.

4. Are you feeling anxious or depressed?

Psychological problems impact quality of life in a huge way—and they shouldn’t be overlooked. Are you constantly worried about your prognosis? Are you upset about not being able to take part in hobbies or work as a result of your illness? Are you spending less time with family and friends because of being sick? These are common responses to illness, and the palliative care team can help you.

5. Are you having trouble with everyday functions, like eating, sleeping, or working?

Illness can cause serious disruptions to your everyday life. That’s what palliative care is designed to help with. Left unaddressed, things like not getting the nutrition or sleep you need or having to take time off work really affect quality of life and can affect how well you’re able to live with and heal from your illness.

6. Are you not taking the medications your doctor prescribed?

Not following your doctors’ orders could mean you or your caregiver needs help. You may need medical equipment at home. Maybe you or your caregiver needs more explanation about your treatment plan. Palliative care can help facilitate better communication with the doctor treating you, as well as address other barriers to your getting the best care.

7. Are you suffering or feeling overwhelmed as a result of your illness?

The point of palliative care is to address suffering associated with a serious illness. So any type of suffering—no matter what the cause—warrants talking to a palliative care specialist to see if you can get help.

The bottom line: If you’re unsure if palliative care is right for you, talk to your doctor. Or call a palliative care specialist to ask if you can schedule a first visit. You can also visit getpalliativecare.org to look up a provider in your area, or browse palliative care providers with our service finder:

If palliative care is not right for you, the team can let you know. But for most people struggling with a serious disease, a palliative care team can do a lot in terms of making it easier to deal with that illness.

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