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Embracing Palliative Care For The Youngest Patients

There is a national effort underway to get more health care providers to see the value of and recommend palliative care treatments for patients with serious illnesses, and that includes children.

Vermont Children’s Hospital is among those embracing the campaign to introduce more palliative care options to children with chronic illnesses.

The national outreach and education campaign is called, “Palliative Care, Conversations Matter.”

Palliative care is often confused with hospice care, which treats people with chronic illnesses nearing the end of their lives. Palliative care is comprehensive treatment for the discomfort, symptoms and stresses of serious illness.

“It is an important part of the care of pediatric patients, and an important component of support for their families. The purpose of palliative care is to improve quality of life for patients and families,” explained Dr. Patricia Grady, Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research, part of the National Institutes of Health. “This particular campaign is directed at children who are not always thought of as recipients for palliative care. Most of the serious or life threatening illnesses that affect children, such as a number of specific cancers, leukemia, some of the congenital disorders that children may have... cystic fibrosis, respiratory disorders and even chronic asthma which is recurrent, can be helped by palliative care.”

Health care providers can be hesitant to discuss palliative care with parents because it can introduce a level of seriousness to the discussion that might be interpreted by parents to mean that their child’s illness is more serious than it is.

“In fact if the child is seriously ill, introducing palliative care helps the parents in understanding what’s happening, and helps them to play a more active role in the recovery or improving the quality of life of their child,” Grady said.

Grady also says that Vermont is well-positioned to introduce palliative care to pediatric patients because of its experience using it to help ease suffering for the state's large elderly population.