Palliative care is more than you may think. It’s a lot more than end-of-life care. It has a more holistic approach, including a family-centred model. It refers not only to medical treatment but also psychological and spiritual care to help those who have a life-limiting illness. According to Palliative Care Australia, palliative care involves the management of pain and symptoms to ensure quality of life for those living with an incurable illness.
During the palliative care phase, there’s a need for an increase in services and support by a team of health professionals. The increased support ensures that quality of care is maintained when death is imminent, reaching from the terminal phase through to bereavement care.
Palliative care services include but are not limited to the relief of pain and symptoms. Symptoms might include nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, sensitive skin, and so on. Services include the provision of resources to support care at home too. Care services will also include links to and the provision of respite care, grief support, and financial support, spiritual and emotional support.
National Palliative Care Week 2021 takes place in Australia from Sunday 23rd May until Saturday 29th May. It’s seeking to raise awareness around the benefits of quality palliative care and how it’s not just about end-of-life care.
Palliative care doesn’t start at the very end of life. According to the Western NSW Public Health Network, there are 5 phases of palliative care. In the initial stages, a primary health professional will usually support you. This might be a general practitioner and/ or a nurse who does home visits. This is referred to as the stable phase, whereby symptoms are controlled with medications and other comfort measures. A current care plan that’s frequently updated will ensure quality of life throughout the phases.
During the stable phase, future planning occurs so that when existing problems worsen or new symptoms arise, there is a plan. When this occurs and a person’s health becomes unstable, there’s often emergency care required, and a new plan of care needs to be established.
This deteriorating phase impacts the current delivery of care. A multidisciplinary team of health professionals work to ensure quality of life. According to the Australian Government Department of Health, the team includes the following: Doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists. Volunteers will also assist, as well as counsellors and psychologists.
At some point, the patient will become terminal. During the terminal phase, specialists provide physical, spiritual and psychological care to the person and their loved ones. Physical care often includes a change in medications used in the treatment of end-of-life care. During the terminal phase, end-of-life care will be provided where you and your family request. This is often in the family home. It could also be in a hospice, an aged care facility or a hospital.
Finally, the bereavement phase begins once the person has passed away. The provision of bereavement support to the person’s family and their carers is complex. Professionals that will support you during the bereavement phase include nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counsellors. Pastoral care will also be provided if that’s what you’re needing at the time.
If you require bereavement support, the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement is available. They are an independent organisation that is available from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. You can free call them on 1800 642 066.
Dying to Talk is an initiative of Palliative Care Australia. It’s about starting the conversations surrounding illness, care needs, death, and bereavement. Talking with people of all ages about your wishes is important. Dying to Talk states that “early conversations can improve the delivery of culturally appropriate and person-centred care. With more conversations comes better support for people nearing the end of life, and their loved ones.”
Finally, the theme for this National Palliative Care Week 2021 is “Palliative Care…It’s more than you think.” Its aim is to raise awareness about quality palliative care and its many facets. Talk with your loved ones and don’t be afraid to start the conversation surrounding illness, dying, and bereavement.
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