What Is the Role of Palliative Care in Nursing Homes?

Lainie Petersen

Palliative care in nursing homes provides both residents and their families with services that can minimize suffering and improve quality of life while the resident undergoes treatment for a serious illness or injury. Through palliative care in nursing homes, residents can be spared the trauma of being moved back and forth between hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes. At the same time, residents can also be made comfortable during treatment and assisted with making decisions regarding future treatment and the possibility of transitioning to hospice care. As palliative care is often offered by a team of health care and social service professionals, nursing home residents can often benefit from this type of professional attention.

Palliative care nursing homes often treat patients who require end of life care.
Palliative care nursing homes often treat patients who require end of life care.

In medicine, palliative care refers to an approach to managing the physical and emotional pain that often accompanies serious health conditions. Specialists in this type of care work to appropriately use medications and other therapies to reduce the pain experienced by patients while also addressing their spiritual and psychological needs. In many cases, a palliative care team will also work with a patient's family members and caretakers so as to provide a holistic approach to patient care. It should be noted that, although palliative medicine has similarities to hospice, hospice is specifically directed toward those who are at the end of their lives and are no longer attempting to cure their health condition, while palliative care is provided to anyone who is coping with a painful and debilitating health condition, regardless of prognosis.

Palliative care in nursing homes helps reduce the need to continuously move residents back and forth between health care environments.
Palliative care in nursing homes helps reduce the need to continuously move residents back and forth between health care environments.

Individuals who live in nursing homes are often elderly and may have difficulty with making significant or frequent changes. As such, palliative care in nursing homes seeks to address the needs of these patients by providing pain control and supportive services within the nursing home itself. The process for providing palliative care in nursing homes will vary by nursing home as well as the services available in a particular jurisdiction. A palliative medical care team may work with specific nursing homes to provide these services to residents and their families.

In many cases, the goal of palliative care in nursing homes is to reduce the need to continually move residents back and forth between health care environments. In situations where a transition may be necessary, such as the need to move a patient into the hospital for a period of time, the palliative care medical staff may continue to work with the patient even while he or she is in the hospital. If it becomes apparent that death is imminent or that further attempts at treating an illness are likely to be futile, members of the team can work to assist the patient in making decisions about end-of-life care.

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