What is Palliative Care for Seniors?

man enjoying benefits of palliative careThe incredible advances made by modern medicine mean that the average American can expect to live a lot longer than his or her grandparents lived. While that’s an amazing thing, it also means that there are a lot more older Americans dealing with chronic illnesses. That’s where palliative care for seniors comes in.

What is Palliative Care?

Often, the words palliative care and hospice care are used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be, though. Hospice care is specific to the end of life, when medical treatment is no longer viable. Palliative care, or palliative medicine, is for any age and any stage of illness. Its approach is to focus on relieving the symptoms, pain and stress of the illness and to ensure the best quality of life possible for both the patient and their family.

Palliative medicine is not a form of alternative medicine. The palliative care team works with the patient’s other doctors as a sort of backup support team. In addition to palliative specialist doctors and nurses, the team can include nutritionists, social workers, therapists and a chaplain in accordance with the patient’s religious beliefs. The goal is to work with the patient’s medical team, not instead of it.

How Palliative Care for Seniors Works

One of the major benefits of palliative medicine is its flexibility. Seniors can receive care in their homes, in the hospital, in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. The staff in all these locations want their patients and clients to receive the best care and enjoy the greatest quality of life possible, and they are usually very open to working with outside professionals who share those goals. If costs are a concern, check with your loved one’s health insurance provider, as many plans do cover palliative care. Medicare, for example, doesn’t use the word “palliative” but still covers many of the same services (depending on the plan, of course).

Another big advantage of palliative medicine is that it takes the family into account as well. Caring for a chronically ill loved one is difficult, and the palliative team can suggest ways to lighten the load so that the family doesn’t suffer burnout.

The main goals of palliative care for seniors are to:

  1. Relieve pain and other symptoms of the illness
  2. Address any emotional and/or spiritual issues of the patient and caregivers
  3. Reduce the frequency and duration of hospital stays
  4. Improve quality of life for the patient and caregivers
  5. Offer help, support and assistance in coordinating medical treatment


If you’re wondering just how palliative care might help your loved one, keep in mind that palliative medical teams can help relieve symptoms like fatigue, pain, nausea and breathing difficulties, as well as psychological issues like confusion and depression. This is true for illnesses ranging from cancer and diabetes to Parkinson’s and dementia. Keep in mind, though, that the best time to start palliative care is from the moment of diagnosis. So if you’re considering it, don’t push it off.

Have you had experience with palliative care for the seniors in your life? Please share in the comments below!