John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Palliative care is the Rodney Dangerfield of eldercare services. It just doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Public payment incentives largely discourage its use. Doctors don’t like it because they would rather “do something” for their patients instead (even if that something amounts to a long-shot treatment more likely to cause additional pain and suffering.)

Many consumers see it as a synonym for hospice care. It’s not.

What it is, simply, is something we should be seeing way more of across senior living settings.

For the unfamiliar, palliative care is specialized assistance for people living with a serious illness. It focuses on providing relief from the attendant symptoms and stress. The overarching goal is to improve life quality for both the patient and the family.

Areas of focus:

  • Symptom management
  • Pain management and relief
  • Treatment options navigation
  • Advance care planning
  • Comfort measure that support life quality.

Sounds like a pretty good option, right? Sadly, many senior living residents never receive such care, or only get it during the final phase of an illness. That is truly a shame.

So how do things get changed? One part of the answer is creating greater awareness among residents, their families and even caregivers. Frankly, the level of ignorance surrounding palliative care and its possible upside is remarkable.

Another part of the answer is changing the mindset of healthcare professionals, whose first instinct when facing a sick patient is to do something. Frankly, that’s not always what’s best for the care recipient.

Part of it is better reimbursement.

Part of it is a marketplace shift. More operators should be beefing up their capabilities here. Actually, some are, especially on the home care side. But there’s a long way to go.

In the meantime, a lot of avoidable pain and suffering is happening to our aging elders right now. Perhaps even in your community.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.