Conferences, workshops, and lectures are all important to attend either as a professional or as a student.
This past Thursday, I attended an Introduction to Palliative Care conference through a local government health clinic. As a professional who works with older adults, and is witnessing the aging of clients, it is important to know what is available within the community for healthcare access. Palliative Care or hospice as it is called elsewhere, is an important part of healthcare for those with chronic health conditions whether it be cancer, respiratory issues, infection, dementia, heart disease, diabetes, other conditions, or a combination thereof.
Palliative means a person has a life-threatening illness and is dying. The services they receive in-home or within a medical setting focuses on or should focus on physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. The objective is to make the person comfortable whether it be pain management or symptom management for their last few months, weeks or days.
Part of the presentation focused on where a person would like to die, most said at home, but is this really feasible? Can the family provide the necessary caregiving, the necessary medical equipment, the cost of the medications? Once a person is in a hospital or long term care facility all of that is provided, although the family may choose to hire additional private care or be the additional caregiver(s) themselves. Whether the patient is at home or in a medical setting they have access to a team of professionals which includes physicians, nurses, occupational therapists or other rehabilitation staff, social workers, nutritionists and others. Optimally, this care is 24/7, but that will depend on the facility, community organizations and resources that the family is providing.
Palliative Care also has, or should have, a bereavement component for both the patient and the family. Dying is a natural phenomenon, the approaches used are not to postpone death. If at all possible the patient and family needs to accept death, speak openly about death and have come up with a plan regarding what happens after. Professional staff can assist with this process.
Not all communities offer Palliative Care and even if they do, quite often there is a lack of resources and services, budget constraints, and a conflict between what the patient may want/need versus what the family wants/needs. Training is an issue as well for the community itself and for professional staff working in palliative care. This can be a very uncomfortable area for many and an area that many choose not to work in.
I am hoping with time this will change considering all the Baby-Boomers who are going to enter the 65+ demographic within the next 10-15 years.
Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada