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Palliative Care for Elderly

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Palliative Care for Elderly SeniorsCare for the elderly is available in various forms, and one of those forms is palliative care. This type of care is mainly for seniors who suffer from serious medical conditions. Care of this type will help to reduce the effects of the senior's diseases and help to manage the side effects that come from the treatment of those diseases. Palliative care is a form of medical assistance that is also paired with senior living support.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is for seniors who are suffering from illnesses that are painful, debilitating or life-threatening. Both terminally ill patients and those who are still seeking a cure are able to receive palliative care.

The main goal of palliative care is for seniors to be able to live a better quality of life despite their illness. Palliative care works for all stages of an illness and is used to help reduce the symptoms associated with the disease or its treatment. This care can come in the form of stress relief, pain relief, and symptom management that is provided on a case by case basis according to the specific needs of the elderly individual.

When to Talk About Palliative Care & Why

Growing older and passing away are normal parts of the life cycle. Although everyone understands that this is part of life, it can be frightening to face this reality as the end nears. Many seniors will grow old and pass away in their home surrounded by loved ones, however, those who are ill or have a terminal disease may not have that luxury.

Most often, those who suffer from terminal illnesses pass away in a medical setting such as a hospital while getting a treatment that isn’t effective or in some cases is not even wanted. Due to the restrictions in hospitals, many such patients are not able to spend their last moments with their families.

Palliative Care vs Hospice

Many families will opt for hospice care in the last few days of life, however choosing palliative care early on will give families more quality time before the end. If you or your loved one have been diagnosed with a debilitating or terminal illness, it is important to speak about your wishes as soon as possible. After getting a diagnosis and considering all of your treatment options, your next important discussion should be regarding palliative care. This can be as early as a few days after diagnosis, or even a month after, depending on the severity of your illness.

Understanding what palliative care is, how it compares against hospice care, and how it will affect your life as your condition progresses, is the best way to ensure that your family knows and respects your wishes.

The point of palliative care is to ease the physical and emotional suffering that comes with serious illnesses and their corresponding treatments. This care can help the patient endure to receive treatment longer, while also allowing the family to focus on giving mental and emotional support. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is available to patients who still have a chance to recover from their illness. Palliative care is provided by skilled nurses, specially trained caregivers, and other medical professionals. Seniors and any person suffering from a serious disease are able to avail of this care in conjunction with curative measures.

Why Don’t More Seniors Opt for Palliative Care?

With an ever-increasing number of seniors in the population, it makes sense that more people will have been diagnosed with serious medical conditions. Many of these seniors will get regular treatment for these conditions, however most of them won’t receive or even consider palliative care. The main reason that many seniors don’t get palliative care is the cost, or rather the assumed cost.

Palliative care treats the symptoms of a disease, the side effects of treatments that come from fighting disease and the emotional side effects of chronic illness. This care doesn’t actually treat the disease itself, which is why in many cases it is seen as an extra expense.

Although palliative care doesn’t treat the disease directly, it offers an invaluable service to those who are suffering from long term or serious conditions. Many seniors will develop secondary health problems as a result of their condition or from the treatment they receive from their condition. Palliative care can help reduce or even eliminate many of these secondary issues before they develop. This not only saves money in the long run, but it also improves the quality of life of the senior as they battle their condition.

Many hospitals and assisted care homes encourage the use of palliative care thanks to the overwhelming number of benefits it offers. Medicare also has changed its stance on palliative care since they have seen that more seniors are able to reduce their hospital visits and thus their medical expenses when they are on a palliative care plan. In addition to government subsidy, many private insurance carriers also cover palliative care for seniors.

When Should You Consider Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a reasonable option for terminally ill seniors as well as those who are under curative treatment. It is important to go over the needs of the patient with the family and their care team in order to best determine their care goals. Some instances in which palliative care is a viable course of action are:

  • There is an uncertain prognosis.
  • The elderly adult is at later stages of dementia, Alzheimer's disease or another form of incurable memory condition
  • The patient prefers not to continue with curative care.
  • The end of life or hospice status is uncertain.
  • There is a prolonged treatment time which may have uncertain results.
  • The family and patient are in conflict over DNR orders.
  • The distress felt by the family is causing impaired decisions.
  • Artificial hydration & nutrition are having a limited impact

These are only some situations in which palliative care is a viable course of treatment. Every senior is unique and the choices in each medical case will depend on a wide range of circumstances.

What to Expect from Palliative Care?

Palliative medicine is a specialized form of medical care intended to be utilized by those who suffer from serious or life-threatening conditions. Medical professionals engaged in palliative care will evaluate each patient and offer care recommendations for treatment of the symptoms of the illness as well as the side effects of those treatments. In many cases, medical professionals may offer suggestions for alternative treatments and improved care options.

Palliative care settings used to encompass only hospital-based care, but in recent years advances in medicine have allowed for care to be offered in a variety of outpatient-based settings. When palliative care is provided in the senior's home, it can be molded into a model of supportive care. This option will depend mainly on what is covered by the senior's insurance and the medical caregiver's availability.

In a controlled setting such as in a senior care home, a senior living community or in a nursing home, palliative care is often more intensive. The caregiver team assigned to residents is generally interdisciplinary, which will allow them to address a wide assortment of care needs. These needs will range from pain management and symptom suppression to depression and crises of faith.

This team will be able to work with seniors who have just been diagnosed as well as those who have been under curative treatment and need help with the aftereffects. Most caregivers who work in palliative care centers have board certifications for palliative medicine and hospice medicine, while others are offering non-traditional therapies such as acupuncture and emotional healing. Prior to enrolling in treatment, each senior will need to have a palliative consultation.

The Cost of Palliative Care for The Elderly

The actual cost of palliative care will vary depending on a senior's geographical location and the specific services they choose. On average, the daily cost of palliative care is around $95 per day per patient.

End of life care such as palliative and hospice care can be paid for in a variety of ways. More than 75% of all end of life care for seniors is covered by government funding such as Medicaid, Veterans benefits, and Medicare. The remaining 25% tend to be supplemented by long-term care insurance and private medical care. Very few families pay for end of life care out of pocket, and most that do can also apply for community-based assistance.

For most families, palliative care is usually covered entirely by Medicare, and private insurance will cover other expenses that are not covered by government funding. The type of charges generated for palliative care depend on where the services are rendered. Home care costs and hospital care costs widely differ.

You should always make a point of getting a detailed list of the cost for palliative care so that you know if there are additional charges well in advance. Sometimes there are extra fees for care provided at home and there may also be length of stay limitations for hospitals. Some additional costs may include:

  • Home-based specialized equipment
  • Medication
  • Skilled nursing care for home-based patients
  • Specialized respite care services
  • Private hospital fees
  • Non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture
  • Psychologist cost not covered by Medicare

How to Choose a Palliative Care Program?

When you or your loved one is facing a condition that is life-limiting, it is easy to get overloaded with information. A lot goes into learning about treatments, choosing doctors and thinking about what the diagnoses mean in the long run. Among all of these bits of information, the subject of palliative care may arise, which comes with a whole new slew of facts to consider.

Choosing the right palliative care program can be difficult when there are so many options to chose from. Certainly, you will get suggestions from friends, medical professionals and others who have already been through the process, but the final choice about palliative care comes down to you. Most palliative care programs may be Medicare-certified, but the way care is provided will vary between teams and locations. Not only will care plans need to be tailored to the specifics of each patient, but they will also be provided differently according to where the care occurs - at home or in a facility. Here are some important qualities to look for when choosing a palliative care program for yourself or the senior in your life:

  1. Specialized Certification – Ask about certifications for all skilled nurses and palliative care aides who will be handling medications and therapeutic treatments. Palliative care involves several types of caregivers and it is important that each person has the right training to ensure a high level of care.
  2. Full-time Physicians – If the senior will be living in a long term care facility, it is a good idea to seek one that will have a doctor as part of their full-time palliative care team. For those who will receive their services at home, consider a palliative care provider that offers periodic at-home visits or that has a general practitioner doctor with an office nearby.
  3. Multiple Modes of Support – Palliative care is more than easing pain, as it also involves emotional support and spiritual guidance. A quality palliative care program will have mental health professionals available as well as spiritual guidance counselors for seniors.
  4. Good Reviews – Just like any service, it is important to get feedback from those who have taken palliative care from the team you are considering. You can ask about feedback from the families of those who have seniors who are still thriving or even ask to speak to some currently in the program. Don’t forget to check out reviews online for facility-based palliative care.
  5. Varied Levels of Care – Every senior is unique and their care plan will also be unique. Palliative care can start at any stage of a condition and the team managing the care should be equipped for each stage of the illness.

Final Thoughts About Palliative Care

Suffering from a serious illness is bad enough, so there is no reason to make your loved one suffer longer than they have to. When just fighting the disease isn’t enough, palliative care is a compassionate option. There are many caregivers and specialists available to make your loved one's terrible journey just a bit easier. This can often help them endure long enough to find a cure or to pass on in peace. Palliative care allows families to spend more time loving the seniors in their families instead of watching them suffer.

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