Family Palliative Care

Family Palliative Care

Restoring and Maintaining Relationships

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease
than to know what sort of disease a person has.”
— Hippocrates

When a family member develops a serious, chronic or potentially life-shortening illness or disability, the entire family system is unsettled. When death becomes imminent and/or inevitable, additional issues arise around anticipatory grief, mourning and bereavement. The integrity of the family is shattered, roles must be restructured and reassigned, and the rules of daily living adapted to ever-changing circumstances.

The challenges of chronic illness and anticipatory loss are as painful and disruptive as death itself. Early engagement with palliative care and family-centered psychosocial and spiritual services benefit both patients and caregivers. Palliative care improves both quality of life for patients and their families as well as increasing survival time, thus helping families transition into the next life-cycle stage with dignity, honor and care.

Attitudes and values learned in one’s family of origin greatly influence the understanding and response to illness, death and dying. The psychosocial strains on the family can rival the physical strains on the patient. Terminal illness challenges the family’s:

  1. Rules, roles and relationships;
  2. Structure and function; and
  3. Hierarchy of power and control.

Dr. Ronald B. Cohen of Family Focused Solutions discusses the benefits of palliative care.Families and individuals living with severe, chronic, potentially life-shortening illnesses often have multiple, complex and interrelated problems that emerge as part of the underlying disease processes. These issues impact their sense of personhood, diminish their sense of wellbeing, and impair their ability to realize their full potential.

Palliative care is a holistic approach to specialized patient-centered care for people with serious illness, the goal of which is to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Components of high-quality palliative care include:

  1. Adequate treatment for pain and other symptoms;
  2. Helping the patient obtain a sense of control;
  3. Avoiding inappropriate prolongation of life;
  4. Relieving burden; and
  5. Strengthening relationships with loved ones.

Psychological distress exacerbates pain, limits one’s capacity for pleasure and disrupts family relationships. Palliative care “addresses the multiple issues that cause suffering for patients and their families and have an impact on the quality of their lives.”

Medical Family Therapy – the aims of which are to improve function and quality of life, manage symptoms, focus on psychosocial aspects of care, and coordinate among myriad physicians and other care providers – helps patients and families maintain their dignity while achieving as much comfort and peace of mind as possible. Psychosocial care incorporates a wide range of non-pharmacological treatments for anxiety, depression and family distress. The benefits clearly exceed the imagined anxiety and distress. Lack of knowledge and understanding is the biggest impediment to engaging with this most helpful intervention.

Please share your thoughts and experiences concerning the journey of life and its destination in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here. If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Loren Gelberg-Goff on April 18, 2014 at 2:14 am said:

    Such a necessary topic of conversation. As always, I appreciate your insights, perspectives and strategies for handling issues that present challenges… Thank you.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on April 20, 2014 at 1:37 pm said:

      Hi Loren,

      Thank you for your kind and supportive thoughts. The multiple transitions from severe, chronic, potentially life-shortening illness to terminal illness and death create repetitive “emotional shock waves” that reverberate throughout the extended family system when confronted with the inescapability of the loss of our loved one’s physical presence. At times of loss and crisis, we all need the opportunity to tell our story, to be heard, validated and seen, to have someone to commune with and witness our pain.


      — Ron

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