Living with a Serious Illness
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Living with a Serious Illness

When you or a loved one has a chronic or life-threatening illness, you may hear the terms “palliative care” and “hospice care.” Since they’re not terms we often use in our everyday lives, understanding the meaning and differences between the two types of care can be confusing. Either can be provided at home, in a nursing home or assisted living residence, or in the hospital.

Palliative Care
Palliative Care is designed to improve the quality of life of those living with a chronic or serious illness. Comfort is the primary goal.

“In real life, treatment choices can be complicated,” stated Dr. Allen Hutcheson, a family medicine physician and palliative care specialist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “Palliative care specialists—physicians, nurses, or other professionals—can help people make decisions regarding the types of treatments available and help physicians provide care in a gentler way. Palliative care supports treatment that will offer more comfort and less pain or distress.”

Palliative care can help people living with any long-term illness or serious disease, including Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, kidney or lung disease, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.

“Palliative care still allows for patients to seek treatment,  which is generally aimed towards comfort and not necessarily curative,” said Michele Beattie, the clinical manager of VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region. “With hospice, patients have made the decision to no longer seek treatment and instead pursue comfort care only. Palliative patients can have both comfort and treatment. Palliative is often the bridge between treatment and homecare hospice.”

Hospice Care    
Hospice is a program that provides palliative care to people with a life-threatening illness. You can opt for hospice care once you have been diagnosed with an illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live.

Both hospice and palliative care are available locally through the VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region. The team includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, nurse’s aides, social workers, a chaplain, volunteers, and therapists.

“Hospice care is based on a holistic philosophy that emphasizes social, emotional, and spiritual care as much as medical care,” said Beattie. “It comes with benefits to patients and their families, including less stress and more support for both .”

With hospice care, Medicare pays the expenses for whatever you need to be comfortable and to live your life the way you choose. This includes medication (associated with terminal diagnosis and comfort), equipment, medical supplies, care planning (including advance directives), and bereavement counseling for your family.

While it may be difficult to disassociate palliative and hospice care from uncomfortable feelings regarding the loss of vitality or the end of life, both are aimed to provide comfort and greater ability to do the things you want to do within the reality of your illness. They allow you to live better and more comfortably as long as you can. 


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