Benefits of palliative care

Feb. 22, 2024
People going through a serious illness can feel completely overwhelmed. They may benefit from palliative care. Photo: iStock.
People going through a serious or chronic illness can feel completely overwhelmed. Palliative care can help. Photo: iStock.

Dealing with a serious or chronic illness is, in a word, difficult.

“People going through a serious illness can feel completely overwhelmed,” said Heather Hack, a board-certified family nurse practitioner providing palliative care services at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “You don’t feel well, you’re tired all the time, you’re worried about your family and your future, and all the while, you’re doing your best to navigate medical appointments and treatments.”

But palliative care can help. Hack outlines the benefits of palliative care below.

Support throughout a diagnosis

Palliative care can provide a range of benefits, from decreasing stress and improving quality of life to finding relief from symptoms.

Palliative care providers communicate with a patient’s care team, helping to coordinate care with primary care providers and specialists, such as oncologists, cardiologists or surgeons.

While hospice care provides comfort for people who are expected to live less than six months, patients can take advantage of palliative care at any stage of a diagnosis.

“Palliative care is not just for people who have a life-limiting disease,” Hack said. “It can help people going through a difficult time during any serious illness.”

Patients with diseases such as cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, ALS, chronic lung disease, advanced heart failure, and kidney or liver failure may all benefit from palliative care.

“No matter where they are in that illness, we can help them determine their goals for care, make complex decisions, and connect them with services and resources,” Hack said.

Help for caregivers

Serious illness doesn’t just affect patients – it takes a toll on their loved ones, who may find themselves balancing work and family duties, along with a new caregiving role. That stress can lead to a range of emotions, such as frustration, anger and guilt, which can be difficult to cope with.

Palliative care appointments give caregivers a unique chance to ask questions, share challenges and get additional support.

“It can be emotionally challenging for caregivers, so we provide support for them as well,” Hack said. “As we start talking, you can see them relax. They say, ‘Oh, you can help with that?’ By the end of the appointment, they see they have someone else on their team.”

Space for tough questions

With 90-minute appointments, palliative care providers spend time getting to know a patient and their caregivers and address issues and questions that may not surface in other appointments.

“We provide space and an opportunity to ask questions about things they may not feel comfortable asking elsewhere,” Hack said. “Sometimes patients have questions about what happens if an illness progresses, or what would happen if they stopped treatment. People have asked, ‘If I die of this, what will I go through?’”

Setting advance directives

Patients also have an opportunity to outline advance directives, including which life-sustaining treatments they want to receive and who would make decisions for them if they couldn’t speak for themselves.

“There’s a huge difference at the end of life when patients and their loved ones are more prepared,” Hack said. “If they know what to expect and have had discussions on the front end, they feel much more at peace.”

Providing resources

From setting up meal deliveries to helping a patient get a walker or in-home services, palliative care can connect patients with much-needed resources.

“Sometimes people don’t know what equipment or services might be of benefit,” Hack said. “We have experience in supporting people through illness over an extended period of time, so we can anticipate needs.”

Ease in getting help

Virtual appointments for palliative care are available, and appointments can be coordinated with other medical visits.

“We’re here to reduce the stress of serious illness by relieving symptoms, providing emotional support, navigating medical questions and helping you maximize your quality of life,” Hack said. “Whatever you need, we’re here to help provide it.”

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at