What Is Palliative Care For the Elderly

If your elderly loved one has been ill for quite some time, and their health is just not getting any better, their medical team may have approached you about considering palliative care for them. 

What Is Palliative Care For the Elderly

There are a lot of myths floating around about what, exactly, palliative care is and what it means for something entering into this type of care. 

Before making any big decisions for your loved one, it’s important to understand exactly what palliative care is and who it was designed for before you can determine if this the right option for your family member. 

What Is Palliative Care?

This kind of care is for patients, and their families, who are going through a very serious and terminal illness. It is designed to alleviate any suffering and improve the quality of life for the person going through the illness. 

This care will also provide support for families who are going through this illness with their loved one, as it can be a really stressful time for everyone and not just the patient. 

Loved ones often feel helpless and alone during this time, and they don’t want to see their family member suffer or be in pain. 

Palliative care is mostly focused on a much more holistic approach to treating the illness a person has, and the impact the illness will have on that person’s life and the life of their close family members. 

A person receiving palliative care will often receive additional care practices – like spiritual care – to the clinical care or treatment they are already receiving. So when it’s recommended to seek out palliative care it doesn’t mean your loved one will stop seeing their doctor or stop receiving medical treatments – it’s just additional care practices to make their quality of life better. 

What Kind of Care Is Provided With Palliative Care?

There are various kinds of care available to those who decided to seek out palliative care, including 

Pain Management Care

This may include additional doctors or nursing care to help manage the symptoms and progression of the illness, but the main goal here is to improve/manage a person’s comfort level and make sure their quality of life is there. 

Social Services 

This could include spiritual, psychological and bereavement support. It can be hard to come to terms with an illness that is terminal, and social services can give you the emotional support to help a patient and their family handle what is coming. 

Personal Services 

If your loved one is staying in their own home while receiving palliative care, services like cleaning and meal preparation may be part of this care plan. Many times patients want to be in their own homes and beds when they’re dealing with a terminal illness, so part of this care plan is to make that possible and help with ensuring their life is as comfortable as possible. 

Care Giver Support 

When a loved one is ill, many family members will take it upon themselves to help out as much as they can, but this can lead to caregiver exhaustion.

Oftentimes, palliative care will offer respite care to caregivers so they can relax for a bit and take a break, recharge and come back. Caring for a loved one who is terminally ill is very taxing, even though we all do it with love. 

Planning for Palliative Care

In the ideal world, palliative care should be a part of retirement planning for everyone. But most retirement planners do not take such a cost into account.

If you are considering palliative care for your loved one but are daunted by the costs involved, it may be a good idea to talk to an elderly law attorney and see if they can help.

Attorneys who specialize in elderly issues are often able to give advice beyond palliative care. They can help you with things like Medicare and Medicaid, estate planning, home care costs and other issues related to the elderly.

How Do You Access Palliative Care When You Need It?

So you’ve looked into it, and your loved one would definitely benefit from palliative care services. So now where do you start?

There are a few ways you can go about starting the process for getting your loved one the care they need, including the following 

Talk to Their Primary Doctor

It is likely a member of your family’s medical team who first recommended that you start considering palliative care as an option for your loved one. Many primary care physicians are the ones who make the recommendation for palliative care to begin with. 

If your loved one has a specialized illness or requires very specialized care, their family doctor may be able to provide an appropriate referral to the right services so that you can get started on the process of palliative care. 

Home Care Support 

If your loved one has been receiving home care support for a while (maybe help with cleaning up and personal needs care) then it may have been one of them who recommended it’s time for palliative care. 

If this is the case, often they will have access to referrals or resources for when you need them. They also likely have experience with this kind of transition and may be able to point you in the right direction for resources and help with getting your loved one the care they need. 

Local Hospital 

If your family member has had surgery or received care for their illness at your local hospital, the doctors and nurses there will be information that they can provide you with on setting up palliative care and how to go about starting it.

Long-Term Care Homes

Many long-term care homes will have seen their residents need palliative care at one time or another – it’s not uncommon, unfortunately. 

If your loved one is currently in a long-term care home, the staff there will be able to give you information on palliative care programs currently available and how to set them up. They may only offer options for ones where your loved one is staying in the long-term care home, however they can make it much more comfortable and private for family members to come and go as they wish. 

long term care

Where Does Palliative Care Take Place?

If someone has been in the hospital for a long time, you may think that they have to continue to receive their care there until the end of their life but that’s not true. 

Palliative care can be provided in a variety of different settings, such as 

  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care
  • Private homes 
  • Hospices

Wherever your loved one is most comfortable and wants to be, palliative care can usually be provided. If you have concerns about this, it’s important to talk to their medical team and see what can be worked out for their unique situation. 

How Much Does Palliative Care Cost?

It’s difficult to determine an exact cost for palliative care – especially when each case is unique. Typically, palliative care costs will be covered by insurance as they want to make sure no one is suffering or in pain when dealing with end-of-life stage care. 

If cost is of concern to you and your family, check with the insurance coverage your loved one has to see what costs are covered. Additionally, many hospitals and long-term care homes will know of resources they can redirect you to in order to help with the costs of palliative care for your loved one. 

Advanced Care Planning

You may want to take some time, while your loved one is still aware of what’s going on and can make decisions for their own health, to determine the kind of care they want to receive. Not everyone wants the same treatment or care during their end-of-life stage so it’s important you know what your loved one wants. 

There will, likely, come a time when they cannot make decisions for themselves but you still want to make the choices they would have made for themselves in that same situation. 

For this reason, it’s important to have these conversations with them upfront and know what they want or don’t want and therefore you have a care directive in place – just in case. 

holding old hand

Care Giver Support

While it is your loved one who is living with this terminal illness, you and your family will still be struggling with it. Providing care for a loved one who has a terminal illness is hard. 

During this time, make sure you take the time you need for yourself and to just be with your loved one.

If you are spending all your time worrying about the details of their care of providing the physical care then you don’t get to just be with them and spend time with them. 

This time could be the last bit of time they have, and they don’t want to see the people they love the most worrying about medical care details – they want to spend this time with you. 

If needed, consider having home care workers come in and take care of the day-to-day tasks (like cooking, laundry and cleaning) so that you get more time with your loved one and don’t have to worry about the rest of it. 

There are many caregiver support programs out there – often called respite care – so that you don’t have to spend this time taking care of those tasks and, instead, can enjoy quality time with your loved one. 

Thinking about palliative care is never easy – for anyone! It’s not a decision that your loved one’s medical team would have come to easily, so if they’re suggesting it then it may be time to consider your options to make your loved one’s comfort level and quality of life that much better.