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Number of people in need of palliative care is expected to double by 2060

Palliative care and hospice care provide comfort to patients and aim to improve the quality of life for those suffering from severe and terminal illnesses. Unlike hospice care, palliative care can and should be an active part of a patient’s treatment plan.  

Now, a new study has revealed that the number of people who will need palliative care is set to double in the next forty years.

Due to the severity of illnesses involved and the constant care required, palliative care can strain health care systems and future demand for palliative care is only expected to increase.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from King’s College London modeled future palliative care projections to help strengthen care policies and ensure that communities expected to be most affected by severe illness and suffering are accounted for.

“Palliative care can relieve suffering for patients and families, and save money for health systems and society,” said Dr. Katherine Sleeman, the lead author of the study. “To direct effective health care planning and policy development, it is essential to understand both the current and future level of palliative care need.”

The study was published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, and the researchers used the  World Bank’s income classification to model estimates for suffering by gender, age, location, and cause of death.

By 2060, the number of people with serious suffering will increase, and 48 million people will die with health-related suffering each year.

The majority of people affected will be those from low and middle-income countries, the researchers found.

“Palliative care and the relief of suffering have been described as some of the most neglected dimensions of global health today,” said Professor Richard Harding Herbert Dunhill, a co-author of the study. “It is estimated that just 14% of the people who need palliative care globally receive it, most of whom are in high-income countries.”

Older adults will face a rapid increase in health-related suffering, primarily due to cancer and dementia.

The study results call for a dramatic overhaul in palliative care policies to ensure that lower and middle-income populations are not denied access to care.

“Immediate global action to integrate palliative care into health systems is an ethical and economic imperative,” said Sleeman. “Our findings call for global policies to strengthen health care systems through availability of essential drugs to relieve symptoms, staff training and public education, with a focus on the populations that will experience the fastest rise of suffering and need.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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