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Palliative Care

The structure of the U.S. population has been changing over the past few decades.  But in 2011, as the very first of the Baby Boomers turned 65, the U.S. society had been changed forever (Ortman, et al., 2014).  It is projected that the “older population,” considered by the U.S. Census Bureau to be individuals over the age of 65, will almost double in the U.S. from 2012 to 2050.  This phenomena has never happened in the history of the U.S. and will be impacting for nearly everyone, both socially and economically, as the need for elder care increases drastically.  This increased demographic of our society is mainly due to this large portion of our society reaching this stage of life together, labeled the “Baby Boomers” for a reason.  Living longer, due to behavioral changes, increased knowledge of diseases, and improvements in the field of medicine, has achieved long-term health for a large portion of our society, but not necessarily better health, thus another reason for the increased need for caregiving. 

The term Palliative Care is not one often heard when dealing with medical issues when caring for an elderly individual.  But it is one that should be in our vocabulary more and more, as the U.S. population of “older” individuals is growing and individuals are staying alive longer.  This word, palliative, has Latin roots, and it means to serve one in which to relieve, lessen, mitigate or alleviate pain or discomfort, without curing.  Palliative Care is similar to its sister, Hospice Care, that our society is more familiar with.  Whether Hospice Care is provided in a health-care facility or in a home, its intent is to bring pain management, comfort and emotional support to a terminally ill person and their loved ones, typically without taking extraordinary measures to prolong life.  According to medicare.gov, (n.d.), typically Hospice Care is for people with a life expectancy of 6 months or less.  Palliative Care is similar, with the same goals of alleviating pain and bringing comfort to the dying process, but it is considered long-term care.  Similar to Hospice Care, an individual’s Palliative Care team can include family members, doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, counselors, therapists, social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and volunteers. 

With the increase in dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and other long-term, noncommunicable illnesses that our older population is facing, often times care is needed to be provided for an individual for an extended period of time, sometimes years, not months or days.  This is where Palliative Care can be so beneficial.  According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (n.d.), the goal of Palliative Care is to increase the individual’s quality of life, working toward “anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering,” as well as “addressing physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs and to facilitate patient autonomy, access to information and choice.”  Where Hospice Care is not seen as a form of curative or life-prolonging care, at times, Palliative Care does incorporate these goals.  It is care with the main focus of peace and dignity, for the individual who is facing long-term care, as well as support, comfort, care, and increased knowledge for the family and care team, with increased quality of life for everyone involved.  Palliative Care may be a great way to receive the additional needed support when providing long-term care for a loved one.


An Explanation of Palliative Care. (n.d.). National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Retrieved from http://www.nhpco.org/palliative-care-4

How Hospice Works. (n.d.). medicare.gov. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/part-a/how-hospice-works.html

Ortman, J.M., Velkoff, V.A., & Hogan, H. (May, 2014). An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States. Population Estimates and Projections. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1140.pdf

Patty Shirley