With the average life expectancy nearing 70 years and 90 percent of us predicted to live two years or longer with a serious illness before we die, there’s more discussion than ever about compassionate care for terminally ill patients. Fight for life at all costs or maintain quality of life at all costs? There can be many answers to that question, thanks to new palliative care options designed to reduce suffering and make the last days the best they can be for those who don’t wish to aggressively treat an illness. Hospitals around the world are having more luck securing funding for palliative care efforts, and new facilities are being built, such as one in Australia championed by “breast cancer thriver” Olivia Newton-John that will incorporate yoga, acupuncture, medication, and art and music therapy into treatment.
Another palliative care option: psychedelic drugs, to reduce the anxiety and depression that haunts those aware of imminent death. Meanwhile, the Margaret Kerr Unit at Scotland’s Borders General Hospital is encouraging its palliative care patients to create a “digital story” to express messages to loved ones. After registered nurse Amy Berman was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, she wrote of spurning intensive chemotherapy, radiation, and a mastectomy in favor of a shorter life with fewer treatment side effects. It's a common desire: 90 percent of Americans say they want to die at home, but 60 percent die in a hospital, 25 percent of them in intensive care.
Whether as a complement to or substitute for traditional cancer treatments, palliative care is a field certain to grow.
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