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What is palliative care in aged care?

Care Services Health Residential
31 August 2020
Nurse helping woman in palliative care

What is palliative care?

When people think of palliative care, they usually assume the person in care is now dying. But in fact, when a health professional suggests palliative care might be a useful addition to a patient’s care, they most likely mean something different.

Palliative care is not just about end of life, it’s about quality of life. It is available at any stage of serious illness, and is recommended to patients early to diagnose and treat the cause of symptoms, manage medications, help with communication or decision-making about treatment options, or provide family support.

A multidisciplinary team of experts – social workers, counsellors, nurses and volunteers – who are trained to respond to the needs of people with serious illness all work together to help manage a patient’s symptoms. Palliative care is a holistic approach to care that considers the whole person – their physical, psychosocial, spiritual, emotional and existential needs – including home visits, overnight nurse stays, massage therapy, music therapy and the hire of equipment like beds and wheelchairs.

What quality of life is there in palliative care?

The effectiveness of palliative care is proven. Multiple clinical trials have demonstrated the benefits of accessing care for people facing a serious illness. Science shows that people with a serious cancer who access palliative care soon after their diagnosis, alongside their recommended cancer treatments, have better outcomes. Patients feel better, have fewer symptoms, are happier and overall have a better quality of life. There is also growing evidence to show the people receiving palliative care live longer.

As a result, palliative care reduces the need for crisis hospitalisations, which are not only difficult for patients and families, but costly. Palliative care allows people to remain safely in their homes and communities, is better for patients and saves taxpayer spending on health.

Palliative care in residential aged care

Palliative care programs help people live as fully and as comfortably as possible with a life-limiting illness. Residents and families are supported through this time through a number of specialist programs, where residents are honoured in life, and in passing.

An example of this is the ‘Namaste’ program which is part of our Journey of Care model. Trained staff integrate sensory stimulation into care delivery using therapeutic touch, aromatherapy, music and sensory experiences.

Founded on the power of loving touch, some of the benefits of our Namaste program include:

  • A relaxed and fulfilling environment
  • Reduced need for medication
  • Decreased pain
  • Fewer incidents of aggression
  • Increased social interaction
With an ageing population, and an increased life expectancy for people over 85, palliative care is likely to become an issue we are forced to think about as more loved ones age. Yet patients and families usually don’t know it exists, and even doctors may think this type of care is only for those approaching end-of-life, rather than providing an added layer of long-term support for people with serious illness at the same time as disease treatment and providing them with comfort and connection when it’s needed most.

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