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What is Pediatric Palliative Care?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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Pediatric palliative care is medical treatment which is intended to improve quality of life for children with terminal medical conditions. Rather than attempting to cure or treat the condition, the goal is to keep the patient comfortable. In addition to caring for the child, caregivers also focus on issues such as supporting the family through the process of palliative care, as a great deal of emotional strain is often involved when a child appears to be at risk of dying before her or his parents.

Modern medicine has generated a number of advances when it comes to treatment of disease, and many people are unaccustomed to seeing children with terminal conditions. This adds a layer of complexity to pediatric palliative care, as caregivers must assess a child to determine whether or not the child is a candidate for palliative care, and develop and appropriate management plan, while also helping family members cope with turbulent emotions.

For some children, pediatric palliative care is provided in a hospital setting. This type of care is made available when a child requires constant care and monitoring by nurses and other medical professionals. In other cases, a child may be allowed or even encouraged to receive care at home, as staying at home usually increases quality of life and happiness.

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While children are not authorized to make medical choices on their own behalf, pediatric care providers often strain to obtain assent or agreement from children before performing procedures or making major choices. This can help the child feel like he or she is playing a more active role in decisions about health care, including decisions to opt for palliative care instead of additional treatment. Depending on the age of the child, the approach to assent may vary. In the case of an infant, for example, the child cannot articulate opinions about treatment, but children as young as seven may play a role in making decisions about their care.

While pediatric palliative care is intended as end of life care, it does not mean that the child will be neglected. Medical issues and symptoms which arise will be treated, and the care team can work together to determine the level of medical intervention which is appropriate. Palliative care may add a few months to a child's life, and sometimes a child surprises everyone and overcomes the seemingly insurmountable. The goal of pediatric palliative care is comfort and support, from a medical and emotional standpoint.

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