The important role of Palliative Care
In Australia, the need for palliative care is becoming increasingly important due to the ageing population and the growing prevalence of chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease within the population. Palliative care helps to support the complex needs of the population.
There is a need for increased public awareness about the importance of palliative care. Educating people about what services are included within palliative care and the benefits of receiving this helps patients to get the support they need and provides reassurance to family members during this very difficult time. Palliative Care Week, which runs from 21st – 27th May, helps educate the public and raise awareness about the importance of accessing palliative care to enable individuals to live well with their terminal illness.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care helps improve the quality of life for people with life-limiting or terminal illnesses and can be accessed at any stage of a terminal illness with end-of-life care becoming an important element of palliative care as the illness progresses. Palliative care helps people to manage their physical symptoms eg. Pain management, supports emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being, provides personal care and respite services as well as counselling to individuals and their family members.
Ultimately, it relieves the individual of any suffering, enabling them to live as comfortably as possible with the highest quality of life. For loved ones, palliative care specialists can also provide bereavement support after the death of their friends or family.
Palliative Care Australia explains that palliative services can include:
- Alleviation of pain and other symptoms
- Equipment and aids to live at home
- Support for families having difficult conversations about future plans
- Helps determine future medical treatment that align with the patient’s goals
- Information about other supporting services eg. In-home care and financial support
- Support for emotional, social, cultural and spiritual concerns
- Counselling and bereavement support
- Referrals to respite care services
Why is palliative care important?
Speaking with palliative care specialists can help the individual to understand their illness, its expected symptoms and progression over time as well as the treatment options that may be available for the illness or to alleviate some of the symptoms. It can also provide an opportunity to understand what assistive equipment may be available.
Discussing the options available with specialists, it helps the individual and their family to make informed decisions about their future. It helps the individual with the illness specify what healthcare, end-of-life and funeral preferences they want or do not want which can then ease the stress for everyone involved and can help to ensure those needs are met. For example, specialists can provide information about whether to continue treatment despite painful side effects, or whether to focus on comfort and quality of life.
Palliative care is most effective when it is considered in the early stages of an illness as it can improve the quality of life for patients and can be used in conjunction with treatment for their illness. It can also help to reduce symptoms of the illness and in turn, can reduce unnecessary hospital admission. Palliative care is essential in helping someone manage the symptoms associated with their terminal illness which may include pain, delirium, nausea, or breathlessness. Palliative care specialists are able to help alleviate the suffering of people experiencing these symptoms, allowing them to live as comfortably as possible in the final stages of their illness.
Palliative care also plays a vital role in providing emotional and spiritual support to clients and their families. The emotional impact of a terminal illness can be huge which can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation for everyone involved. Palliative care specialists are trained to provide counselling and other forms of emotional support to help patients and their families cope during these difficult times. In addition, they may be able to provide spiritual guidance or support your cultural or religious beliefs, which can be particularly important for those who are getting close to the end of their life.
Are there any palliative care challenges being faced in Australia?
Despite the importance of palliative care, there are still significant challenges that must be addressed to ensure that all Australians have access to high-quality palliative care.
One of the biggest challenges is the shortage of palliative care specialists in many rural and remote areas, where access to healthcare services, in general, is already limited.
For many, being diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness can be upsetting and overwhelming meaning that they avoid discussing and thinking about their palliative care or end of life options. Whilst it may be exceptionally difficult for everyone involved to start having conversations about what may take place in the future, it can help to ease the stress and enables access to the vital services needed by the individual and their loved ones.
Thinking about organising an end-of-life care plan?
Palliative care is an essential part of healthcare and is crucial for improving the quality of life of people with life-limiting illnesses. In Australia, there is a growing need for palliative care services and an important element is end-of-life planning. This outlines the following:
- where someone wishes to die (eg. In hospital, in a hospice, at home),
- what kind of healthcare they wish to receive – also known as Advance Health Directives and Statement of Choices
- who should make healthcare and other decisions for them – also known as Enduring Power of Attorneys (EOPA)
- what financial matters need to be organised and who should do this
- whether the individual has a will, where this is stored and how has the ability to action
Whilst it can be difficult to make an end-of-life plan, it is essential to do so following a terminal diagnosis as it ensures that the wishes of the individual can be met, especially if the illness affects the capacity to make or communicate their decisions.
For further information and advice about palliative care, it is best to speak to a GP, Palliative Care Australia or Advance Care Planning Australia.
Palliative Care Australia provides extensive information about palliative care and the different services or legal frameworks that are applicable in different states and territories.
Advanced Care Planning Australia provides resources to help create end of life plans for those with a terminal illness.