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Maintaining Quality of Life for the Very Ill
Palliative care provides comfort and support
Date: 7/9/2012

Many patients — and even some healthcare providers — confuse the term palliative care with hospice or end-of-life care. But the terms shouldn't be used interchangeably, says Karen Visich, nurse practitioner and program coordinator of RWJ Hamilton's palliative care program.

"Both focus on relieving pain and suffering, but hospice is only one type of palliative care that can be provided during the final stage of life. Traditional palliative care is provided — at any stage of life — to anyone with a chronic, progressive or serious illness."

Who Can Benefit
Palliative care is a comprehensive service that aims to relieve suffering in people who have serious illnesses. At RWJ Hamilton, Visich treats patients with conditions such as heart failure, lung and kidney disease, cancer and Alzheimer's.

"These are patients and families who need help maintaining their quality of life, that need help coping with their diagnosis," Visich says. "They aren't necessarily dying."

What's Involved
The palliative care team may include a combination of physicians, nurses and social workers who partner with the family to provide an extra layer of support. The team may also include massage therapists, pharmacists, dietitians and chaplains, says Visich.

"Living with a serious illness can impact every part of your life. That can very well include spiritual support for some."

Palliative care may be provided together with curative treatment, rather than replacing treatment. In addition to expert symptom management, palliative care focuses on clear communication, advance planning and coordination of care.

Whether you are at home or in the hospital, a palliative care team can help. You, a family member or any healthcare professional working with you can talk to your physician about a referral for palliative care services.

For more information about RWJ Hamilton’s palliative care services, call 609.249.8463.

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