Why You Should Care About Palliative Care

The highlight of Norma’s week is when Marianne comes by to visit. The friends shop and run errands, share tea, and catch up about how Norma, age 85, is doing.

The women first met three years ago when Earl, Norma’s husband, had a health crisis. Norma was distraught and overwhelmed, and Seniors At Home, Earl’s Home Care provider, recommended that its palliative care team step in to add additional support for the family.

senior with caregiver

An important part of Seniors At Home’s palliative care approach is emotional support and companionship. That’s why Marianne, a trained Palliative Care Volunteer Visitor, started visiting Earl and Norma every week. Part of Marianne’s volunteer preparation included how to be present for families who are processing difficult feelings during an illness or after the loss of a loved one.

Now that Earl has passed away, Marianne continues help Norma navigate life on her own and cope with her grief. The women have remained very close and can always find something to laugh about together.

These visits mean everything to Norma, who relies on the companionship and care, and says, “Marianne makes my life livable!”

What Is Palliative Care?

If you aren’t sure what palliative care is, you’re not alone. Many people associate it with medical treatments to make a patient more comfortable at the end of life. Some think it is the same as hospice care, while others have never heard of it at all. Due to myths or misconceptions, when a physician or care provider mentions “palliative care” in the hospital, it can be upsetting or confusing.

But, in reality, making life livable—even in the face of serious or terminal illnesses—is what palliative care is all about. For those coping with a challenging medical condition, palliative care offers added layers of support to help relieve pain and suffering, and to improve everyone’s quality of life—throughout the entire course of any serious illness, as well as at the end of life.

More than End of Life Care

Unfortunately, palliative care is not easily accessible to many people and few know about its incredible benefits. Less than 1% of physicians in California are certified in palliative care, along with fewer than 2% of nurses, certified nursing assistants, and social workers. This lack of training means that palliative care is often only considered at the very end of life, and is then provided only through a medical lens, such as what a hospice team provides.

Palliative Care is most effective when started at the very beginning of treatment for an illness or at medical diagnosis. In fact, recent studies have shown that beginning palliative care as early as possible in the course of a disease improves outcomes for patients and can even lengthen their lives.

Pioneers of Community-Based Care

The good news is that there is a growing movement in the Bay Area and across the country to expand holistic palliative care, and JFCS‘ Seniors At Home is leading the way with a social service model of palliative care in order to fill the gaps.

Seniors At Home takes a team approach to address the various needs of people who are experiencing a serious or terminal illness. By providing practical support–such as help understanding treatment options and advocating for a patient’s wishes–as well as emotional support including companionship and spiritual guidance, the team addresses individual and family needs in a holistic way. Seniors At Home also collaborates closely with expert medical teams at University of California, San Francisco, and California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Memorial Hospice in Santa Rosa, and Mission Hospice on the Peninsula.

Redwing Keyssar, RN, Director of Seniors At Home’s Palliative Care Program, says, “We have created this program because palliative care needs to go beyond medical support. In fact, it is clear that social supports are medically necessary to reduce suffering and to uphold the dignity of the person who is ill.”

Seniors At Home also trains volunteers, like Marianne, to provide extra support to palliative care clients. Volunteers visit weekly and provide an invaluable support system to clients and their family members.

Raising Public Awareness

Innovative programs like Seniors At Home’s are contributing to increased awareness about palliative care, and opening up the conversation about illness, death, and dying. Recently, Redwing and Sylvia Boorstein, author and teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, offered two programs in San Francisco and Sonoma County that discussed how we define aging, old age, sickness and death. Both events sold out and reflect the growing interest that people have in maintaining the highest quality of life possible as we age and when we are ill.

“As our aging population expands, many of us are finally willing to talk about aging and death, and about what is essential to healing our own suffering and the suffering of our loved ones,” says Redwing.

“But in order to truly advance the way we approach palliative care and the end of life in our culture, we all need to have these conversations. It is only through open dialogue that we can eliminate the idea that death, dying, illness, and suffering are taboo subjects.”

How Can We Care About Palliative Care?

Redwing says, “Continue the conversations with your family and friends, read the articles in the New York Times and the Huffington Post and other periodicals that have begun featuring sections about aging, and attend educational events in your local area where you can learn more.”

Become a Palliative Care Volunteer in your area! Learn more about our Volunteer Training Program > 

To learn more about Seniors At Home’s award-winning palliative care program, call us at 415-449-3700 today.