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Pain Management & Palliative Care

Palliative care aims to improve quality of life and relieve suffering for patients with advanced illness and those close to them by specifically addressing communication, symptom management, coordination of care, psychosocial and spiritual realms, grief and bereavement support, and legal and ethical concerns. It has an interdisciplinary focus and may co-exist with curative and life-prolonging treatment. Palliative care is a key component of appropriate, routine medical care, especially for clinicians caring for older adults. In revisiting Mrs. B, the many needs of a typical elderly patient are apparent, as are the gaps in the current level of care. A discussion of prognosis and goals of care is a potential starting point. This includes obtaining input from an oncologist with regard to treatment options for Mrs. B's metastatic breast cancer and her pathologic hip fracture. Soliciting her treatment goals in the context of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and significant recent decline is the next challenge.

Pain, dyspnea, constipation, anorexia, and anxiety could then be addressed with pointed assessment and symptom-specific management. Code status discussion, communication with her support network, and care coordination for her increased care needs would follow. Hospice should be introduced as a potential option. Advance care planning might also be initiated. Psychological and spiritual support needs could also be explored in time. Clearly, there is much to be done for Mrs. B and her loved ones in clarifying and coordinating whatever path comes to be. Older patients and their families face prolonged courses of chronic disease and gradual decline. Physicians caring for these patients need to be expert in the domains of palliative care so these patients and their families can receive the best quality of care while they are still living full lives and later as they approach the end of life.

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