If you or a loved one is facing a serious illness, you may be a candidate for palliative care. But what does that really mean? Palliative care is an often-misunderstood specialty that focuses on improving the quality of life for people with a serious illness as well as their families and caregivers.

Millennium Physician Group Internal Medicine Physician Bruce Lipschutz says palliative care provides relief from both symptoms and stress.

“Palliative care is comfort care,” he explains. “Palliative care is critical because we see that as a start of understanding what you may or may not want in medicine for the patient, for the family.”

Palliative care is provided by a team of specialists who work together with a patient’s doctors to provide an extra layer of support.

“A candidate for palliative care is anyone who in my view is declining in some way,” says Dr. Lipschutz. “Declining with an illness that really can’t be changed dramatically by our medical care.”

Illnesses most commonly treated by palliative care are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, renal disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

“It’s always important talk to the conductor, the primary-care doctor, of what’s right or wrong for this particular family and patient,” advises Dr. Lipschutz.

Studies have shown patients who receive early palliative care had less depression, improved quality of life, and survived longer.

“Palliative care is not the beginning of the end,” says Dr. Lipschutz. “It just shows a family and patient the power of being comforted.”

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