Understanding Palliative Care and Advance Directives

At some point in life, many adults are faced with making medical decisions for a sick or injured family member or loved one. And if that person’s wishes about how he or she would like to be treated medically aren’t known ahead of time, it can be difficult for doctors and loved ones to know what to do. Palliative care and advance directives can help.

(In this video, Linda Long, ARNP, explains how palliative care and advance directives help patients and their families manage serious illness and end-of-life decisions. Video by George Carvalho)

“Palliative medicine is a medical subspecialty that focuses on providing care for individuals with serious illness or chronic disease,” says Linda Long, ARNP, manager of palliative care at Homestead Hospital. “Palliative care looks at the whole person along with the situation and their family or support system, and tailors healthcare accordingly.”

Similar to hospice, palliative care regards dying as a natural process. The goal of hospice and palliative care is to achieve the best possible quality of life through relief of suffering, control of symptoms and restoration of functional capacity while remaining sensitive to personal, cultural and religious values, beliefs and practices, according to the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association.

Palliative care is different than hospice care, however, because its goal is to help improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

What type and how much palliative care is administered depends on what the patient decides, says Ms. Long. The best way to make sure the patient’s wishes are followed is to have them documented ahead of time.

“Advance directives” are expressions of treatment preferences provided by patients before they are too sick to communicate. They protect a patient’s right to accept or refuse care even when he or she cannot communicate because of injury or illness. Doctors and other professionals strongly recommend advance directives.

To help you decide how you want your healthcare guided, there are certain questions you can think about, including:

  • What would be important to you?
  • Would you want to prolong life, regardless of pain and the chance of recovery?
  • Would you want to act according to your religious beliefs?
  • What are those beliefs? Are there any medical procedures you would not want performed?
  • Would you want to be with your loved ones if you were dying?

The Baptist Health News Team asked Ms. Long to explain palliative care and advance directives. Watch the video to learn more.

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