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March 21 2017

Palliative care improves quality of life for patients with serious illness and their families

By Kelly Cooke, DO

Coping with a serious or life-limiting illness can be overwhelming. Palliative care helps guide patients and their families to the services and support they need to live the best life possible.

The word palliate means to relieve or ease. Palliative care focuses on alleviating symptoms, enhancing quality of life, prioritizing goals of care and minimizing health crises.

This specialized care is for patients with serious health challenges including:

  • Cancer

  • Brain and neurological conditions

  • Advanced heart, lung, liver, kidney or vascular disease


  • Life-threatening accidents

  • Other serious or life-limiting illnesses

Palliative care is not the same as hospice care. Hospice care is end-of-life care for patients who are no longer receiving treatment to extend life. It is provided in the home or at a residential hospice such as ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice in Oconomowoc.

Palliative care is specialized, team-based health care that helps patients maintain quality of life and alleviate symptoms associated with serious illness such as pain, breathing difficulties, nausea, fatigue, appetite loss, emotional distress or sleep issues. Palliative care professionals see patients in the hospital and in local clinics by appointment.

While some patients may benefit from palliative care temporarily, such as those suffering from a serious accident, others often receive this care for years before transitioning to end-of-life care, such as those with congestive heart failure or chronic kidney disease.

Extra layer of support

The ProHealth Care palliative care team consists of a physician, social worker, advance practice nurse and chaplain. The team works together to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to patients based on individual needs and wishes. They offer an extra layer of resources and knowledge for the patient, regardless of the disease or diseases.

Communication plays a major role in helping patients and families understand and receive care. When families attend the patient’s appointments and participate in palliative care discussions, their concerns can also be addressed.

Palliative care meetings center on:

  • Status of the patient

  • Progression of the disease

  • Symptom management

  • Treatment options

  • The impact of multiple diseases

  • Effects each treatment option may have on the course of a disease

Palliative care discussions commonly focus on how to treat the patient’s discomfort. Additionally, when the patient and family members know how to identify health changes, they can learn when to call a physician for medical help and possibly avoid a trip to the emergency department.

Connections to resources

Palliative care discussions also help the patient and family identify when additional services such as in-home care or housekeeping are needed. In addition, they help connect the family to community resources that provide appropriate services.

Advance care planning also is included in palliative care services. Planning ahead helps seriously ill patients discuss and document the care they wish to receive at the end of life.

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about a serious illness or palliative care. Research has shown that people who receive palliative care are less likely to be in the hospital at the end of life and more likely to have legal advance directives assuring that their end-of-life care will be consistent with their decisions.

Kelly Cooke, DO, is a physician specializing in palliative medicine for ProHealth Medical Group. She is a doctor of osteopathic medicine and is board-certified in medical oncology and palliative medicine. Dr. Cooke works at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital and ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital.

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 For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.