For those dealing with chronic or life-challenging illnesses, having a team of palliative care experts on hand to help improve your quality of life can be beneficial in more ways than one. They can help manage illnesses ranging from cancer and neurological disorders to congestive heart failure and liver failure.
“Some people confuse palliative care with hospice, but they’re not the same,” says David Henkin, M.D., a palliative medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. “While hospice is end-of-life care, those who receive palliative care can be treated and even cured.”
Palliative care can be provided in an in-patient or out-patient setting. It helps to:
- Manage pain and side effects from treatment. “We work with your primary oncologist or pulmonologist—or whatever doctor it may be—to lessen pain and side effects from treatment,” says Dr. Henkin. “Cancer treatment, for example, can lead to side effects like nausea, neuropathy, brain fog and fatigue, so our job is to make the side effects as bearable as possible.”
- Make difficult or complex decisions. “Sometimes patients and their families have really hard decisions to make; they have to absorb a lot of new information and it can be confusing,” says Dr. Henkin. “We make sure that they understand everything that’s going on, explain all of their options, and ensure the highest communication so that they can make decisions that feel right for them.”
- Process the emotional effects of dealing with a chronic or serious illness. Of course, dealing with a chronic illness isn’t just about managing your physical body—it can be incredibly taxing on your mind. “We provide chaplains, psychologists, nurse navigators and social workers for spiritual and psychological support,” says Dr. Henkin.
In fact, there are quite a few studies that show patients who receive palliative care live longer than those who do not receive palliative care, says Dr. Henkin. Many of these studies were done with patients who have cancer, and they found that early palliative care involvement can both improve their quality of life and lengthen their life.
“Let’s say someone has cancer and they’re nauseous and in excruciating pain,” says Dr. Henkin. “They see me and I treat their pain, which allows them to get out of the house, go to their oncology appointment and get chemotherapy. That itself would prolong their life. But also, the mind-body connection is huge. When your pain is managed, when you have a psychologist to talk to, when you have the tools to deal with the emotional impact of your illness, it can have a great beneficial impact.”
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David Henkin, M.D., is a palliative care and hospice specialist with Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit.