By Jessica Whittemore, LCSW-C,
Social Worker for Chesapeake Supportive Care
What does aging in place mean to you? Most people imagine they’ll be in their own home, enjoying retired life, maybe traveling, doing hobbies. That is what we hope for, right?
Often, health problems can get in the way of those plans. Coping with diagnoses like congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and more, can make daily living difficult. Many of these conditions result in hospitalizations which for elderly patients often leads to the need for skilled nursing care.
There is a way for many with complex and chronic health conditions to be able to stay where they are. They can seek supportive care.
In the medical world, supportive care is known as the specialty of palliative medicine. Palliative care is not hospice care. That’s a myth we struggle to dispel. Instead, think of it as supportive care, specialized medical care focused on reducing the symptoms, pain and stress caused by serious illness and complex chronic health conditions.
Supportive care can help you age in place through symptom management. The most common symptoms that affect quality of life are pain, shortness of breath and agitation. Supportive care aggressively treats these symptoms through medicine, therapies, mindfulness and more. Studies show that addressing symptoms before they’re out of control can prevent hospitalizations and even help to prolong your life.
Quality of life is as important as quantity of life. That’s where goals of care play an important role. Goals of care are patient-centered plans that detail how you and your loved ones want to manage your health. The planning begins with an initial consultation with a physician or nurse practitioner that can take up to 90 minutes. It takes that amount of time to get to know you and your family to determine what you want and need.
Goals of care can change throughout the course of the disease, so those goals are revisited in follow-up visits. The supportive care team works with your healthcare teams, from primary care physicians and oncologists to radiologists and cardiologists, to ensure their treatments align with your goals.
A supportive care team usually includes a social worker, chaplain and other clinical professionals who work with the physician and nurse practitioner to care for the whole patient – physical, psychological, social and spiritual.
Through it all, you can continue with curative treatments like chemotherapy, dialysis, radiation therapy, blood transfusions and the like if that’s what you choose to do. You can also choose to stop these treatments. That is why it is called supportive care.
How does this all get paid for? As a board-certified medical specialty, it is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans and billed the same way. Managing advance illness or complex chronic diseases can be overwhelming for you and your loved ones. It helps to have a specialist ready to help you do it how you want to do it.
Hospice of the Chesapeake is a nonprofit organization that is caring for life throughout the journey with illness and loss in Anne Arundel, Charles and Prince George’s counties. Its affiliated programs include Chesapeake Supportive Care, which offers specialized care, compassion and encouragement for wherever you are on your journey with complex advanced illness. For details, visit www.chesapeakesupportivecare.org or call 443-837-3376.
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