(This article appeared previously in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel/New America Media.)

Rozanne and Gerald Hallman were thrust unexpectedly and severely into the land of the seriously ill when, in late 2011, Gerald, a retired pastor, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery to remove as much tumor as possible, but the procedure left him paralyzed on one side.

“They said [his tumor] was a bad one,” Rozanne recalled. Many questions and decisions faced the rural Steuben County, Ind., couple.

When Gerald’s physicians discussed options and next steps, palliative care was among them. Rozanne, a retired teacher, was familiar with hospice, but unaware of palliative care as a specialized service that helps improve quality of life without necessarily abandoning curative treatment.

“I didn’t have a clue,” she said, but added that through those services, “our every need was met.”

What’s the difference?

Multiple studies show that, compared to awareness of hospice, “There’s significantly less familiarity with palliative care,” said Dr. Lyle Fettig, director of Indiana University School of Medicine’s Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship program centered in Indianapolis.

Palliative care is now a recognized medical subspecialty, but experts in the field say lack of knowledge about it within the general public, and even among medical providers, is impeding the many benefits of these services for those who most need them.

Palliative care, according to the New York-based Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), is appropriate for individuals of any age and at any stage of a serious illness, whether it is cancer or a chronic condition, such as heart or lung disease. The goal is to improve quality of life for both patient and family through a holistic, interdisciplinary team approach.

Palliative care addresses symptom control of a medical condition, as well as side effects of treatment. Families may be connected to community services, financial resources and help for caregivers.

Hospice includes palliative, or comfort care, to relieve pain and other symptoms but, generally speaking, it is for individuals anticipated to have six months or fewer to live and who are no longer receiving active treatment.

“The reason that people get palliative care confused with hospice is that [palliative care] can be introduced earlier on,” said Kathryn Felts, a palliative care and hospice nurse practitioner with Parkview Home Health and Hospice in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Patients in palliative care can still be receiving curative treatment. Patients access palliative care most often at a hospital, or it is at least initiated there, but they can also have it provided on an outpatient basis, if it’s available.

For more information, visit Bluegrass Care Navigators.