Community Attitudes Towards Palliative Care 2006

5. Aims of palliative care

Page last updated: August 2006

5.1 Quantitative: perceptions of the aims of palliative care

Those who were aware of palliative care (84% of Australians) also seemed relatively familiar with at least some of the aims of palliative care (Figure 9). The most commonly perceived aims were reported as:
  • Providing comfort to the terminally ill (52%);
  • Providing pain relief to the terminally ill (23%);
  • Improving the quality of life of the terminally ill (20%);
  • Supporting the families of the terminally ill (18%); and
  • Providing dignity for the terminally ill (17%).
Fewer Australians described aims relating specifically to psychological and spiritual support such as stress reduction for the family and/or patient (8%), emotional and spiritual support (5%) and counselling (2%).

Few Australians who were aware of palliative care did not know what palliative care aims to achieve (6%).

Australians perceived the aims of palliative care to centre on providing comfort and pain relief for the terminally ill. Less specific mention was made of psychological care such as counselling.

5.1.1 Demographic differences

The main aims of palliative care identified by Australians were providing comfort and pain relief for the terminally ill. This level of understanding was shared equally by all demographic groups, that is, there were no significant differences in spontaneous mentions.

Improved quality of life and dignity in death were less likely to be mentioned by those aged 65 years or more when compared to their younger counterparts:
  • 3% of those aged 65 years or more mentioned quality of life as an aim of palliative care compared to 34% of those aged 18 to 34 years; and
  • 9% of those aged 65 years or more mentioned dignity in death compared to 22% of those aged 35 to 54 years and 21% of those aged 55 to 64 years (21%).
One in five females (21%) indicated support for family as a key aim of palliative care compared to one
in ten males (11%).

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Figure 9: Perceptions of the aims of palliative care

Q7: What do you think palliative care aims to achieve?

Bar graph showing perceptions of the aims of palliative care
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5.2 Qualitative: perceptions of the aims of palliative care

Participants were able to describe the aims of palliative care in general terms. Although not all participants used the term ‘palliative care’ in their description, most participants could describe a general description of objectives relating to care for the terminally ill.

Other general aims included:
  • Provision of comfort and dignity for the terminally ill.
“To make them (terminally ill) comfortable.”
“Keeping people at home and comfortable in the last stages of their life.”

  • Provision of high-level intensive care, for people who are completely incapable of caring for themselves.
“Providing services for people who are very ill and can’t look after themselves.”
“People who need constant care, people who need to be nursed all the time.”

  • An understanding of the importance of pain relief and management.
“Morphine – pain relief.”
  • Some recognition that palliative is not a curative speciality, with a greater emphasis on pain relief and maintenance of comfort and emotional wellbeing
“Its emotional support, in the end the medical just goes along with it, all they’re doing is administering morphine.”
“It is about dignity rather than cure.”
  • Limited recognition that palliative care also aims to support the wellbeing of families and carers, as well as the patient.
“Right at the end when you need support, its lonely sitting by someone’s bedside waiting for them to pass.”

As with the description of services many of the aims of palliative care were seen to relate to care for the terminally ill in their homes. Allowing people to stay in their homes for as long as possible and allowing people to die in their homes if preferred were seen to be central tenets of care for the terminally ill.

“Keeping people at home and comfortable in the last stages of their life.”
“”They come in to your home. They work very hard to keep you out of hospital.”


Some participants saw further benefits of in-home care in terms of cost savings to the healthcare system.

“It lowers the cost for the state as far as the hospitals are concerned, if they can keep you at home as much as possible.”

Participants understood palliative care aims to include providing comfort, dignity and pain relief for the terminally ill, particularly in a home setting.
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