When a child is diagnosed with a serious illness, they and their families must quickly become familiar with new and often confusing terms. Palliative care may be one of these. This type of care is available to both children and adults, though palliative care for children can sometimes be slightly different. This guide can help you answer the question “What does palliative care mean?” for both situations.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is designed to improve the quality of life for both patients and their families when faced with a life-threatening illness. This is done by working to prevent and relieve physical pain and emotional and spiritual distress from the time the illness is diagnosed. This can include medication, individual therapy, meetings with a chaplain, and other therapies as deemed appropriate. Families also receive support and access to helpful resources during this time.
Palliative care uses a team-based approach to providing support. It is not designed to treat illnesses, postpone or hasten death, or provide anything beyond comfort, resources, and general support. As such, palliative care is provided while the patient is also receiving curative treatments for their illness. It can be provided in any environment, from out-patient settings to homes.
The Benefits of Palliative Care
Because palliative care is holistic, focused on providing broad care from every angle, it provides patients with a wide variety of benefits, including:
The most important benefit of palliative care is the physical, emotional, and spiritual support that patients receive. They can feel more like themselves, enjoy their usual activities as much as possible, and speak with a professional about their often difficult emotions and thoughts as they fight their illness.
Customized care is another benefit of palliative support. Patients receive customized care plans from a team of professionals, which means that they will likely be receiving higher-quality care than they would if this task was undertaken by loved ones alone.
Many people facing serious illnesses are unable to leave their homes or hospitals for long periods of time, significantly limiting their ability to engage with other people. Palliative care, in contrast, encourages social interaction. In fact, it’s common for doctors, therapists, and other palliative volunteers to regularly visit patients and their family members so that they feel connected and fulfilled.
Families will feel supported by the various emotional and spiritual counseling options offered to them as part of palliative care. With these resources, they may be better able to cope with their loved one’s illness and work through their feelings in a compassionate setting with a palliative care specialist.
Caregivers can also use palliative care as a form of respite care for pediatric patients. This means that while their loved one is being cared for by a member of the palliative care team, family caregivers can rest, attend to other necessary tasks, and return feeling refreshed.
What is Pediatric Palliative Care?
Pediatric palliative care is designed to address the same physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children and families dealing with serious illnesses from the moment the illness is diagnosed. Like palliative care for adults, it can be given while receiving treatment in an out-patient setting, at home, or in another location.
This type of support differs primarily in the way in which it is given. Children may struggle to understand their illness and accept any reduced ability to enjoy certain activities, making it important to address these needs in an age-appropriate way. Pediatric palliative care may also include other types of therapy, such as play therapy, that adult palliative care may not.
How Can Pediatric Palliative Care Help Your Loved One
Pediatric palliative care offers the same benefits as adult palliative care, with some special additional benefits. One is the ability for children to speak with adults who are not their family members for support. Children may often feel the need to not worry their parents with their concerns when parents clearly have so many other stressors in their lives, and speaking with someone who is not related can provide a safe and comfortable way to discuss these important feelings.
Similarly, siblings will benefit from the ability to talk about how their own lives have changed since the diagnosis. When a child is sick, their siblings may feel left out due to the attention being paid to the sick child. Having an outlet for these emotions can help them better cope with their new situation.
Because pediatric palliative care is specially tailored to address children’s needs, kids will always have diagnoses, treatments, and other important information explained to them in a way that will help them understand exactly what’s happening. This can decrease fear and stress, helping the child feel more at ease with their treatment.
Serious illness has a strong impact on families, and this impact is often amplified when it affects a child. Parents will therefore appreciate the high level of communication that high-quality palliative care providers offer. The palliative care team will provide constant updates on treatment, the child’s condition, and recommendations, and can even act as a liaison between the family and primary care doctor if necessary.
Finally, pediatric palliative care provides parents and caregivers with spiritual and emotional counseling, just like adult palliative care, with special attention paid to the unique concerns that can arise when caring for a child.
Choosing a Palliative Care Provider
Speak to KidsCare of the Rockies for more information about palliative care. KidsCare’s palliative care teams consist of specially educated doctors, nurses, child life specialists, counselors, and other medical professionals who understand how to provide the best care for families and children with life-limiting illnesses. Each team creates a customized care plan to provide individual and effective support for physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.