What is palliative care?

Palliative care helps people live as fully and as comfortably as possible with a life-limiting or terminal illness. Palliative care aims to ease the suffering of patients and their families. Find out how palliative care can help you and your loved ones.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is person and family-centred treatment, care and support for people living with a life-limiting illness. A life-limiting illness is an active, progressive, or advanced disease, that has little or no prospect of cure and that you’re likely to die from at some point in the future. If you have been diagnosed with a life limiting illness you may continue to live an active life for many years to come. Life-limiting illnesses can include:

  • cancer
  • motor neurone disease
  • end-stage kidney disease
  • dementia.

Palliative care also supports your family and friends. 

The aim of palliative care is to help you have a good quality of life. This includes making sure you and your family get the care and support you need to live well. Palliative care is based on individual needs and may involve

  • relief from pain and other physical symptoms
  • planning for future medical treatment decisions and goals for your care
  • emotional, spiritual and psychological support
  • help for families to come together to talk about sensitive issues
  • support for people to meet cultural obligations
  • counselling and grief support
  • referrals to respite care services.

How does palliative care differ from other types of care?

Palliative care is not the same as end-of-life care. You can receive palliative care at any stage of your illness. You can also continue treatment for your illness while you are having palliative care. 

What is end-of-life care?

End-of-life care is the care given to people and their families who are facing the end of their life. End-of-life care is an important part of palliative care.

End-of-life care is for people of any age. It often involves bringing together a range of health professionals to help you to live out your life as comfortably as possible.

Wherever possible you can have end-of-life care where you and your family want. This can be at home, in hospital, in a hospice or a residential aged care home.

Who is palliative care for?

Palliative care is for people of any age who have been diagnosed with a serious illness that cannot be cured. This includes children and young people, adults and the elderly.

When you start palliative care depends on the stage of your illness. You may need to start palliative care not long after getting your diagnosis. This can often help you and your family deal with your diagnosis. Or you may not need it until your illness progresses. You can also have other treatments by different doctors even when you are having palliative care.

Having palliative care doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re likely to die soon. You can receive palliative care for years if needed.

Who is in the palliative care team?

The palliative care team can include many health professionals to help you and your family manage your illness. These include:

  • doctors and specialists
  • nurses
  • aged care workers
  • social workers
  • physiotherapists and exercise physiologists
  • occupational and speech therapists
  • psychologists
  • trained volunteers
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