Carl Murdock has suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for nearly 20 years. COPD is a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe.
“Since my diagnosis I have been in and out of the hospital a lot,” said Murdock. “I’d have some pain and would struggle at times to catch my breath.”
Murdock and his wife Ione, were active seniors. They loved to travel and wrote a newsletter. Over the years the travel decreased as his health worsened and they just recently had to give up co-writing their newsletter of 22 years.
“It got to be too much,” said Murdock. “We couldn’t do it all. It’s unfortunate. It was something we really enjoyed but what can you do?”
One thing the couple added, which has helped them navigate their new “normal” was palliative care. He was one of St. Luke’s first palliative care patients when the inpatient palliative care program began in 2005.
“I didn’t know what it was,” recalled Murdock. “One of my doctors suggested it. I was told it was not the same as hospice care. I would continue to seek ongoing treatment for my COPD.”
“Using palliative care doesn’t mean that a patient has given up living,” said James Bell, MD, St. Luke’s Hospice and Palliative Care medical director. “Palliative care focuses on improving life and providing comfort to people with all types of serious illnesses. We work with the patient and their doctor to refocus on their priorities and care. It’s about maintaining a patient’s quality of life.”
Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment. In fact, some patients recover and move out of palliative care. Others with chronic diseases may use it as it’s needed.
“It has been great,” said Murdock. “I would say I am in the hospital less, which is good. They help me manage and understand my care better. I have virtually no pain and they’ve helped me cope with some of our new realities like not traveling and driving.”
“Many of these changes are not easy physically nor emotionally,” said Renee Grummer-Miller, St. Luke’s Palliative Care social worker. “Then once you add in frequent hospital visits it can be hard to manage. It can be confusing, frustrating and overwhelming for patients and their families. We work to alleviate these feelings while helping maintain the continuity of care between the hospital and the patient’s home.”
Murdock is a World War II veteran but as the baby boomer generation ages the need for palliative and hospice care will grow. According to the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) palliative care in U.S. Hospitals has increased for the 11th consecutive year. The number of hospitals with a palliative care team increased from 24.5 percent to nearly 66 percent, which is a steady 148 percent increase 2000 to 2010.
“Managing care for some patients takes a lot of work,” said Dr. Bell. “Palliative care can be just as helpful to the family of a patient. Many baby boomers may have to care for their aging parents. Palliative care can help provide supportive services to family members who may be dealing with some painful emotional issues.”
In a study published in the August 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that patients who received early palliative care actually had lower rates of depression and better quality of life than patients who received standard treatment only. The palliative care patients also tended to live about 2.7 months longer.
“Our goal is to work with all of the patient’s caregivers to develop a care plan that meets their needs through all the healthcare settings,” said Dr. Bell. “Palliative care is about improving the quality of life for the patient and their family. We work to help individuals understand their illness and treatment options while working to make them comfortable.”
November is National Hospice Palliative Care Month. Murdock encourages others to learn about palliative care like he did several years ago by talking with his doctor.
“It has been great and has improved my quality of life quite a bit,” said Murdock. “I have a plan for my care and this gives me peace of mind.”