Making choices – Choosing comfort when there is no cure
As we get older it is natural to expect at least a few health problems. Aches and pains seem to go hand in hand with the aging process. The older we become the more likely we will have to endure more symptoms associated with aging. Several studies show that the fears expressed by older people are related to unrelieved pain and/or to loneliness following the death of a spouse or friends.
Are we meeting the healthcare needs of our seniors?
What do seniors want? When the natural problems that go along with ageing are combined with life-limiting diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, congestive heart failure, incurable cancers, chronic kidney failure, AIDS or oxygen dependent emphysema (in other words chronic illnesses which have no cure and which will eventually lead to a person’s death), then the result can be an increasing dependence on family or caregivers for activities of daily living. And while families want to provide the love, care and attention seniors need, still, many seniors suffer discomfort as well as loss of independence and dignity.
Neither hasten or postpone death
Researchers have found that seniors want to be comfortable, being in as little pain as possible and they want to avoid inappropriately prolonging the dying process. Seniors also want to enjoy and strengthen family relationships while maintaining their independence or sense of control without being a burden to anyone. Families and caregivers of seniors want their loved ones wishes to be honored and be included in the decision making process.
Both seniors and their families want honest information, privacy, 24/7 access, and have workers listen to their concerns
What do we have to offer seniors and their families?
For those more interested in comfort care and the quality of years lived rather than the quantity of years, there is a team approach to health care called Palliative Medicine. Palliative care aims to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for patients with advanced illness and their families. It is offered along with all other appropriate medical treatments. So, for seniors who want to focus on a good night’s sleep, a controllable bowel/bladder (neither too often nor too little!), less pills and not to be ‘nagged’ about sticking to a diet, overdoing it, etc. palliative medicine may be helpful.
Palliative Care means to lessen pain, to give, temporary relief
‘Palliative’ means to lessen pain, to give temporary relief. It means instead of aggravating suffering by trying to investigate or cure problems when there is no cure, palliative care works to improve the quality of time a person has remaining by treating symptoms only. Palliative care does not mean that we are ‘giving up’or ‘there’s nothing else we can do’. It still allows a person the opportunity to continue disease-modifying treatments such as chemotherapy if they choose.
Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst!
Palliative care avoids the ‘false hope’ that prevents patients and their families from dealing with reality. Instead, the hope lies in being more comfortable and enjoying the remaining years knowing that none of us can predict the future. Focusing on realistic healthcare goals allows one to ‘be prepared’ for whatever happens.
We cannot prevent death but we can make the closing years more comfortable for everyone. If you are interested in this care, speak to your doctor or nurse.