What is palliative care?
Palliative Care aims to keep people with a life limiting or eventually fatal illness as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. It aims to maintain quality of life for patients, their families and carers by addressing the many needs patients, families and carers have such as physical (including treatment of pain and other symptoms), emotional, social, cultural and spiritual (PCA).
Depending on your needs, palliative care may include:
- Treatment to relieve pain and other physical symptoms like nausea, breathlessness and trouble sleeping
- Information and advice to help you make decisions about treatment and care options and plan ahead
- help with emotional and social needs, like dealing with fear and other feelings, and communicating with your family and friends
- help finding practical support, like transport, financial assistance, equipment and visits from care providers so you can live comfortably at home where possible
- Guidance to meet spiritual needs or concerns
- A support system to help you live as actively as possible and to help your family cope during your illness and after you die.
(Pall Assist Brochure)
PallAssist - PalAssist Guide to Palliative Care in Queensland (still in the draft stage)
Palliative care is appropriate for anyone with a life limiting illness, (i.e. conditions that have little or no possibility of cure). It is for people of any age, race, cultural or religious background. Palliative care is not just for patients with incurable cancer but also people with other life limiting illness. These may include severe or "end-stage" heart, kidney or liver failure, advanced dementia, motor neurone disease etc.
Palliative care support is not only available to the person with the life limiting illness but also to their family and/or carers to help them manage the patient at home and to deal with their own grief and losses.
Palliative care is not just for the last few days or weeks of a person’s life. It should start months or even years before to help maintain quality of life for as long as possible.
If you have a life-limiting illness (or incurable or progressive disease), talk to your doctor about palliative care at the earliest opportunity. People often say they wish they had known about and used palliative care services earlier.
You can start palliative care at any time; it doesn’t matter what stage of disease you have or how long you are expected to live. You might use palliative care for only a few weeks, or over several years. If your condition stabilises, you might not see your palliative care team for a while.
Finding out about palliative care services and support now will reduce stress on you and your family later. It will give you information and time to better understand and manage any physical symptoms (such as pain or nausea), make plans and get help meeting your practical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Palliative care may be provided by a number of different health professionals, depending on your needs, and the needs and resources of your family or carers.
In many cases palliative care is provided by your doctor (GP or specialist) and community nurses. They get advice and support from palliative care specialists to ensure you get the care and support you need.
A specialist palliative care team may include:
- your GP
- specialist palliative care doctors and nurses
- specialist doctors for your illness e.g. oncologist, cardiologist, neurologist, respiratory physician
- social workers
- occupational and speech therapists
- spiritual carers or pastoral care workers
- trained volunteers.
You can have palliative care at home, in a residential aged care facility, or in a hospital or palliative care unit (hospice). Where you receive care depends on your needs, your preferences, services available in your area, and whether you have family or friends who can help.
Your doctor or palliative care team will assess your needs and recommend the best place for your care. Make sure you tell your doctor about your specific needs and concerns.
In most cases, your general practitioner (GP) or a community nurse will organise palliative care for you. However, you or your family can contact your local hospital and health service or community palliative care service directly.
To find a service in your local area you can call PalAssist or search the National Palliative Care Service Directory: palliativecare.org.au/directory-of-services/.
Not everyone with a terminal condition will experience pain. If patients do experience pain, in almost all cases it can be relieved. Pain management medicines can be administered in different ways including, tablets, liquids, injections, and patches. Medicines can also be combined with other treatments to improve pain relief. Other complementary therapies can also assist in relieving pain, such as massage, meditation, acupuncture or aromatherapy.
There are many pain management medicines that can be given in different ways – tablets, liquids, injections, patches. There is also a wide range of medicines and other treatments that can be combined to improve pain relief.Some complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture or aromatherapy can also be helpful in relieving pain.
Morphine or other opioids are often prescribed to manage pain. Using morphine or other opioids to control pain may mean that the person is able to enjoy a life largely free of pain or continue to go to work. The appropriate dose of medication will, in almost all cases, continue to relieve pain right through the course of an illness. Morphine and other opioids are not psychologically addictive when properly prescribed for pain relief.
The financial burden of a serious illness – including treatment costs and loss of income – can be stressful for you and your family.
While most palliative care services are free, there may be costs for things like medicines or equipment. This section provides some information about financial assistance and support that may be available to you or your carer.
Most palliative care services are free. There may be some costs for medicines or supplies depending on your needs, if these are not fully funded by Government. Private palliative care services charge fees. It's a good idea to ask about costs. If you have health insurance, ask if they cover palliative care.