Aug 29, 2023

What is palliative care for the elderly?

Manny Cominsky

Palliative care is a specialized form of medical care that focuses on enhancing the quality of life for individuals living with serious illnesses. It aims to relieve pain, manage symptoms, and reduce the stress associated with these conditions. While palliative care is often associated with end-of-life care, it can be beneficial at any age and at any stage of a serious illness. For elderly individuals, palliative care becomes particularly relevant as they face unique challenges and needs presented by serious medical conditions. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the importance of palliative care for the elderly, the services it provides, and how it differs from hospice care.

Understanding Palliative Care

Elderly patients in palliative care receive both treatments intended to cure their serious disease or illness, as well as care that is meant to care for and provide relief from the symptoms of whatever illness they are facing. Palliative care is intended to enhance an elderly patient’s quality of life by working alongside the curative care they are receiving to increase their quality of life. Palliative care often focuses on providing pain relief and other serious symptoms, as well as helping elderly patients cope with the side effects of the curative treatments they are also receiving.

The Benefits of Palliative Care for the Elderly

Elderly individuals often face a multitude of health challenges, making palliative care particularly valuable. Palliative care offers several benefits for the elderly, including:

Pain and Symptom Relief: Palliative care specialists are trained to effectively manage pain and alleviate distressing symptoms. Elderly individuals can experience various symptoms, such as chronic pain, shortness of breath, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and depression. Palliative care focuses on relieving these symptoms, allowing seniors to live more comfortably.

Guidance in Medical Decision-Making: Palliative care teams work closely with patients and their families to help them make informed decisions about their medical treatment. They provide guidance, discuss treatment options, and address concerns, ensuring that elderly individuals and their families have a clear understanding of the choices available to them.

Emotional and Spiritual Support: Serious illnesses can take a toll on emotional well-being. Palliative care teams can offer emotional and spiritual support, helping elderly individuals and their families navigate the emotional challenges that arise during the course of the illness. Palliative care teams provide social support, offering counseling, therapy, and emotional support to patients and their families. This support helps address the emotional impact of the illness and promotes mental well-being.

Advance Care Planning: Palliative care teams assist elderly individuals in advance care planning, helping them make decisions about their future medical care. This includes discussing treatment preferences, end-of-life wishes, and goals of care. Advance care planning ensures that the patient's wishes are respected and followed.

Palliative Care at Home: Addressing the Unique Needs of the Elderly

While palliative care is often provided in a medical or senior living facility, it can also be provided in a senior’s home. For many elderly individuals, receiving palliative care at home offers numerous advantages. Home-based palliative care provides a familiar and comfortable environment for seniors, promoting a sense of security and well-being. It allows them to age in place and receive the necessary support and care in a familiar setting. 

Additionally, receiving palliative care at home can be particularly valuable for family caregivers. It provides them with access to knowledgeable professionals who can offer guidance, support, and respite care, easing the burden of caregiving and allowing family members to have a greater role in their senior loved one’s care.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care: Understanding the Differences

Palliative care is often confused with hospice care, but it's essential to understand the distinctions between the two. While both focus on improving quality of life, there are some key differences:

Timing of Care: Palliative care can be provided at any stage of a serious illness, while hospice care is typically reserved for individuals with a life expectancy of six months or less.

Treatment Goals: Palliative care aims to improve quality of life while continuing curative treatments, whereas hospice care generally focuses on providing comfort and support for individuals who are no longer pursuing curative treatments.

Scope of Care: Palliative care is comprehensive and addresses a wide range of physical, emotional, and even spiritual needs. Hospice care, on the other hand, is primarily focused on end-of-life care and symptom management.

Care Setting: Palliative care can be provided in various settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, and homes. Hospice care is typically provided in the patient's home, a hospice facility, or a nursing home.

Common Health Conditions for Palliative Care in the Elderly

Palliative care is beneficial for elderly individuals with a wide range of serious health conditions. Some common health conditions that often require palliative care include:

Cancer: Palliative care plays a crucial role in managing the symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments. It helps alleviate pain, nausea, fatigue, and other distressing side effects of cancer treatments, improving the overall quality of life for elderly cancer patients.

Heart Failure: Palliative care can help manage the symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention. It provides support for both the physical and emotional challenges associated with this condition.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Palliative care is essential for individuals with COPD, as it helps manage symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, and fatigue. It provides strategies to improve breathing, enhance comfort, and optimize overall well-being.

Dementia: Palliative care is often incredibly helpful for individuals with dementia, as it focuses on managing behavioral symptoms, addressing pain, and providing emotional support for both the patient and their family.

Parkinson's Disease: Palliative care can help manage the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with movement. It provides support for both physical and emotional well-being.

Finding a Palliative Care Doctor for the Elderly

To access palliative care services for elderly individuals, it's important to find a qualified palliative care doctor. Here are some steps to help you locate a palliative care doctor near you:

Consult with the Primary Healthcare Provider: Start by discussing the need for palliative care with the elderly individual's primary healthcare provider. They may be able to refer you to a palliative care specialist within their network or provide guidance on finding one.

Contact Healthcare Organizations: Reach out to healthcare organizations in your area to inquire about palliative care services. They may have a list of palliative care doctors who are part of their network or affiliated with their organization.

Utilize Online Directories: Online directories, such as the directory provided by The Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), can help you find palliative care doctors in your area. These directories provide information about the doctors' credentials, specialties, and contact details.

Palliative care is a critical component of healthcare for elderly individuals with serious illnesses. It focuses on enhancing quality of life, managing symptoms, and addressing the unique needs of the elderly population. By providing comprehensive support for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, palliative care improves the overall well-being of elderly individuals and their families. Whether provided in the home or in healthcare facilities, palliative care offers valuable services that alleviate pain, provide guidance, and enhance the overall quality of life for the elderly. By understanding the benefits of palliative care and accessing appropriate services, elderly individuals can receive the support they need to navigate their health challenges with dignity and comfort.

To learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior care more affordable for you or your loved one, send us an email at or request more information on Sunbound. Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living and senior care and is on a mission to make senior living affordable for everyone.

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