Study finds early palliative care increases quality of life

Family
Caregiver holds a patient's hand.

Caregiver holds a patient's hand.

When diagnosed with a serious illness, patients who enter a palliative care program suffer from less depression and enjoy a better quality of life than those who wait to begin until later in the disease process, according to a study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The study followed 350 patients with lung or gastrointestinal cancers. Some patients received traditional oncology care, while other received oncology care integrated with palliative care. Researchers conducted an assessment six months after diagnosis and found that patients who benefited from palliative care had a higher quality of life and better mood.
The results don’t surprise Dio Godbold, a Tidelands Health palliative care coordinator. The health system launched its community-based palliative care program in mid-2017 as a natural outgrowth of its commitment to improve the health and wellness of the community.
“Today, people with chronic and life-ending illnesses are living for years before they reach the point of hospice,” Godbold says. “Palliative care offers support to manage the disease during that period.”
Palliative care differs significantly from hospice, a service that is generally only available to terminally ill patients during the last several months of life. Palliative care can begin at any stage after a patient has been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, heart failure and HIV/AIDs, among others.
The goal of palliative care is to help patients and their families manage the physical and emotional aspects of their condition, Godbold says. Coordinators can offer families and patients support working through financial pressures, legal problems, employment concerns, transportation and housing challenges, among other issues that may arise.

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Although palliative care can be initiated at any point during the disease, it’s better to start early. Doing so allows more time to plan and prepare for future needs.
“Our goal is to help improve the patient’s quality of life and offer support to the family,” says Shawneequa Sumpter-Gibson, also a palliative care coordinator for Tidelands Health. “Both the patient and their loved ones can benefit.”
Those benefits may extend through the final weeks of a patient’s life and beyond, the study found. In addition to sustaining a better mood and improved quality of life, individuals involved in early palliative care more regularly discussed end-of-life care, which has been shown to improve patients’ experiences in their final days and help loved ones cope with their loss.

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