Palliative Care

What's the difference between palliative care and hospice?

Hospice is a type of palliative care that is a comfort-focused and meant for patients with terminal illnesses in the final months of life. Palliative care is available at any time during your illness. Unlike hospice, you can receive palliative care at the same time you're receiving curative treatments.

Improves quality of life

Palliative care teams treat people living with serious, complex and chronic illnesses such as the following:

  • Alzheimer's
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Cardiac Disease such as Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Kidney Failure
  • Parkinson's

People facing serious illness benefit from palliative care at any stage of their illness. Therefore, palliative care should be considered a key component of medical care along with other appropriate treatments.

Palliative care teams improve quality along with patient and family satisfaction. The team also supports the primary physician, the patient and the family by providing:

  • The ability to devote time to family meetings.
  • Improved communication and support for resolving family/patient/physician questions concerning goals of care.
  • Expertise in managing complex physical and emotional symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, depression, nausea, and more.
  • Coordination of care transitions across health care settings.

Palliative care helps patients and families understand the nature of their illness and make timely, informed decisions about their care.

Patients and families state that palliative care has helped them improve their quality of life. This is achieved by identifying their goals, explaining options and helping them maintain control.

What to expect for hospital based palliative care

You can expect our team of palliative care specialists to meet with patients and their families to discuss goals of care and a treatment plan. They will also discuss advance directives, medical power of attorney and code status.

The goal of the palliative care team is quality of life so they will also assist with symptom management which may include pain, shortness or breath, anxiety, constipation or any other symptom that may be causing distress.

You can learn more about McLaren Greater Lansing's Palliative Care by calling (517) 975-8957 or visiting the Center to Advance Palliative Care's webpage, available at www.capc.org.

    "Death is not the opposite of life, but an innate part of it" - Haruki Murakami

Signs and Symptoms at End of Life

What to expect when saying goodbye

Trying to prepare for the death of a loved one is difficult. One of the ways families can prepare is to have knowledge of the signs and symptoms to watch for that can occur at the end of their loved one’s life.

This guideline is flexible, some or all the symptoms may be present or none may be present. For some, it may take months. For others, only minutes.

What to expect in the final months

As the body begins to shut down you may notice your loved one experiencing some of the symptoms below.

  • Frequent hospitalizations
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Weakening and unable to perform simple tasks

Also, they may become less interested in food as nothing tastes good. As the body shuts down, energy needs decline. It is natural to want people to eat but at this point, the body does not need or want nutrition. As hard as it is, be patient and understanding as this is part of the natural death and dying process.

Loved ones may start to withdraw from the physical world. They may show less interest in their surroundings. You might also notice they are no longer interested in the things they used to enjoy—including friends and family. As they withdraw they may begin to reflect on life. This is sometimes done internally, with their eyes closed. They may sleep more or stay in bed all day. Your loved one may want you close but may not engage with you.

Preparing to Say Goodbye

What to expect in the final days

Your loved one may be sleeping often. It is best to allow them to sleep and talk with them when they are alert. They may become confused, talking to people who are not present. They may talk about deceased relatives as if they are near. You may notice them talking about “going” or “having to go”. They may seem restless, picking in the air or at the linens. This is the normal process of letting go. You may also notice:

  • Blood pressure may lower and heart rate increase
  • Body temperature fluctuating between hot and cold
  • Clamminess and perspiration may be visible
  • Skin color will fluctuate with these changes
  • They may be flushed with fever or bluish with cold
  • Nail beds, feet, and hands are often pale or blue

Breathing changes can also begin to occur. You may start to notice gaps between breaths or increased respirations. Breathing then may become shallow or noisy. This is more distressing to caregivers than your loved one. Medication can keep your loved one comfortable.

You may notice a surge of energy near death. Your loved one may open their eyes, speak clearly and seem alert. They may even request food or fluids. They may engage in conversation or want to sit up. This surge may not always be noticeable but it usually is recognized in hindsight.

What to expect in the final minutes

As the dying process progresses, these symptoms may intensify. Often, their eyes are glassy and half open. They may seem more restless and you may notice a purplish color to hands and feet. You may hear an occasional grunting or moaning sound with breathing. Breathing may sound wet or have a rattle. Eventually, the breathing slows and becomes very shallow until they take their final breaths.

Palliative Care at McLaren Greater Lansing Palliative care focuses on relieving the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for patients and their families.

Palliative care is appropriate at any point in a chronic illness. It can be provided at the same time as other treatments you're receiving—even curative or aggressive therapies.

For more information on palliative care, call (517) 975-8957.