Palliative Care is the active total care of patients with incurable diseases. Palliative care responds to physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the patients and their families and extends if necessary to support the family in bereavement. It is patient centred, and not disease-focused. According to the World Health Organisation, “Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual. Palliative care provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms and offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death. Palliative care also offers support to help the family cope during the patient’s illness and in their own bereavement.
India is estimated to have more than one million people diagnosed to have cancer every year. More than 80% of them are incurable at the time of diagnosis. The country is estimated to have an equal number of patients with other incurable diseases like progressive neurological, cardiac, respiratory, AIDS and other diseases. With the rapid ageing of the Indian population the highest number of patients needing palliative care in the future will be from among the elderly terminally ill.
Is palliative care only for the dying patients?
Care of the dying patient (Terminal Care) is an important part of palliative care however palliative care is not terminal care alone. It starts as supportive care when the diagnosis of a life threatening illness is made, continues as terminal care if the illness progresses and provides bereavement support for the family after the death of the patient. Palliative Care is not in conflict with curative care. The principles of symptom control and psychosocial support used in palliative care are beneficial to the patient even when the disease is curable
Who can deliver palliative care?
A patient with advanced incurable disease will have a lot of physical, emotional, social and spiritual problems. Such patients will need appropriate care for the rest of their lives. It is not possible for doctor or nurse or hospital to address these complex problems alone. What is ideally needed is a team of trained doctors and other health care workers supported by trained volunteers in the community.