What is palliative care and why is it important?
The term palliative care is commonly misinterpreted as just end-of-life care. Although widely misunderstood the true meaning of palliative care is to improve quality of life. It is designed to enable you to live your life to the best of your ability by identifying physical, emotional and social needs. It is beneficial for people of any age who are living with a serious illness that cannot be cured, such as lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), or silicosis.
Palliative care is encouraged early in your disease diagnosis and journey to improve your quality of life by managing symptoms, help with communication, assist in navigating the numerous decisions that can evolve when faced with a life-limiting illness, and provide family support. It is offered in a number of settings including within your own home, aged care facility, hospital or a hospice and can be introduced whilst receiving active treatment and can be facilitated alongside your primary treating team.
Palliative care can be incredibly beneficial to both you and your loved ones, providing support and guidance through what can be an emotionally and physically challenging time.
Who can access palliative care?
Palliative care is for anyone living with a life limiting or terminal illness, regardless of age. It can assist people with illnesses such as lung cancer and lung disease to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Family members and carers can also benefit from palliative care support and advice
Who is involved in providing palliative care?
Palliative care is delivered by a team of health professionals who work together with your treating team to provide an extra layer of support which may occur at any stage in your journey. Involvement of a palliative care team does not mean that you or a loved one cannot continue receiving regular treatments. Many people will continue their therapies whilst receiving input from their palliative care team too. Palliative care involves many health professionals who collectively bring a range of skills to help you manage your illness. These professions include:
- Social workers
- Occupational and speech therapists
- Pain management specialists
- Pastoral care
- Trained volunteers
The essence of palliative care is to deliver the best level of symptom management coupled with psychosocial support and assistance with decision making to ultimately improve your quality of life. As there are advances in treatments available and the management of chronic illnesses, we are also seeing advances in how palliative care is delivered.
What benefits does palliative care offer?
The level of palliative care offered to a patient is dependent on an individual’s needs and circumstances. Palliative care can include a variety of care including:
- Relief of pain and other symptoms
- Medication management
- Dietary advice and support
- Sleep management
- Assessment of home environment and resources to aid care and mobility at home
- Counselling and guidance for families
- Connection to home help and financial support services
- Support for emotional and social changes
- Grief and bereavement support for family and carers
- Referrals to respite care services.
How can palliative care assist carers?
Caring for someone through a terminal diagnosis is challenging and it’s important that carers and family’s needs are met so they can best support their loved one. Palliative care can support families and carers by:
- Increasing access to services when their loved one’s condition worsens
- Counselling and guidance support
- Grief and bereavement support.
Where and how can I access palliative care?
It is important to discuss palliative care options with your current treating healthcare team including your GP and specialists. GPs and other treating doctors can provide referral for you to access palliative care services. Your treating healthcare team can write a letter outlining your diagnosis and any other information which will help the service provide care for you.
What is an advanced care plan?
Advanced care planning involves discussing and planning your preferences for your future health care with family, friends, carers and your treating healthcare team.
An advance care directive is an important part of advanced care planning as it formalises the decisions and choices you have made for your future care. The directive outlines your needs, values and preferences for future care.
Advanced care planning is important to ensure your opinion and choices are heard during end-of-life care. An advanced care directive helps to relieve some of the pressure and stress from your family to make decisions on your behalf during difficult periods.
- Carer Help
- Paliative Care Australia
- Questions to ask your palliative care team resource
- Find a service provider
- Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement