Palliative care can be a critical component of healthcare for those facing a terminal illness. Rather than work to cure the disease, palliative care providers ensure that a child is as comfortable as possible while they receive potentially curative treatments from a different medical team. This can include medication for pain management, counseling, and other services, depending on the child’s needs. Palliative care also includes therapy and counseling options for family members. This guide will help you understand the stages of palliative care and what to expect in each stage.
Diagnosis of Terminal Illness
While a terminal illness is not necessary to receive palliative care — it can be incorporated into care plans for those with serious but not immediately life-threatening illnesses — a doctor must first certify that the child is eligible to receive palliative care, and having a terminal illness nearly always qualifies. Once a doctor has provided a diagnosis, they can begin helping the child and family coordinate care. Insurance often covers palliative care services, so children or their loved ones should check their individual policies for more information about which services are included.
Receiving Medical Treatment
Palliative care is administered in conjunction with curative treatments and can begin as soon as a doctor gives a diagnosis. As a child receives palliative care, they will also receive chemotherapy, radiation, or other medication that is designed to help them recover from their illness. Both palliative care and treatment should be provided as quickly as possible. This helps ensure that the child is comfortable and that they are receiving everything they need to fight their illness effectively. If the child recovers from their illness, palliative care services will be tapered off until it is no longer needed. If not, the services will continue for as long as necessary.
Utilize Pain Management Services
Part of palliative care is the use of pain management services. This can include medication, massage and physical therapy, and other treatments designed to mitigate pain. These will be customized based on the child’s individual needs and can change throughout the course of their treatment. Pain management services will be provided by nurse practitioners, physical therapists, and doctors, depending on the treatment offered, and can be provided in the child’s own home. The team will coordinate with the child, their loved ones, and the rest of the team during and after each visit to ensure that the child receives the most up-to-date care possible.
Utilize Therapy Services
Palliative care also includes mental and spiritual health support. Like pain management services, therapy can be customized based on a child’s needs and the extent of their illness, in addition to their age and interests. Therapy may consist of individual appointments with a counselor or art, music, or play therapy. If requested, palliative care providers can also arrange for spiritual counseling with a chaplain. Each therapy provider is educated in palliative care, allowing them to provide sensitive and customized support. These services can help children work through their often difficult feelings about their illness without worrying about affecting parents and other loved ones with their emotions.
Preparation for a Peaceful Transition
If your child’s illness does not improve over time, and it is determined that they have less than nine months to live, then hospice care may be necessary in addition to palliative and/or curative care. Hospice care is similar to palliative care, as both aim to provide physical and emotional comfort when dealing with a serious illness. Children with life-limiting illnesses can receive hospice care alongside curative treatments. Planning for this transition can help ease the strong emotions that surround it. The child and their loved ones should consider what they need to live comfortably at home and speak with both palliative care and hospice care teams about what they need to know to help make the transition as comfortable as possible. Like the palliative care team, hospice care providers will coordinate with children, loved ones, and other medical professionals to provide effective and customized support.
Palliative care is an essential support service for children and their families, who can benefit from the emotional and spiritual support offered. Loved ones receive access to the same emotional and spiritual health services as their child, which can help them during this difficult period in their lives. This can be particularly helpful for siblings, who often feel ignored as their parents’ focus turns to the health of the ill child. Caregivers also benefit from therapy and counseling, as they can feel emotionally drained by the constant responsibility required of them. If your loved one is facing a terminal illness, consider contacting KidsCare of the Rockies and seeking out palliative care services for their benefit and for yours as well.