Palliative care

Palliative care plays a vital role at the end of life for many Australians. It aims to improve the quality of life for a person living with a life-limiting illness by supporting physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs.

People who require palliative care may be at different stages of an illness. They may need palliative care for a short period of time, intermittently or consistently over a period of months or years. However, many receiving palliative care will be approaching the end of their life.

For those approaching end of life, nearly half will require treatment decisions to be made and the majority will lack the capacity to make their own decisions.

Advance care planning is an essential element of quality palliative care. In the palliative care setting, a person should be encouraged to choose a substitute decision-maker and to write down their health and care preferences in an advance care directive.

The National Palliative Care Strategy calls for more people preparing, using and maintaining advance care directives, including within aged care and for people with dementia.

Advance care directives

An advance care directive for someone in palliative care should consider preferences for:

  • pain and other symptom management
  • refusal or withdrawal of treatment
  • cultural, emotional and spiritual support
  • personal care
  • place of death

Substitute decision-makers should be involved in conversations about advance care directives. Family members and close friends should also be involved to help them understand what to expect.

Further palliative care information

Palliative Care Australia is the national peak body for palliative care and their website is a useful source of information for everything related to palliative care.

PalliAGED is a palliative care evidence and practice information resource for the Australian aged care sector. They provide support for health and care practitioners and are a source of trustworthy information for older Australians, their families and friends.

Confessions of a palliative care doctor

"What I’ve learned about death and dying as a palliative care physician is that one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones is advance care planning.

"The following stories involve two elderly men facing their end of life, after a sustained period of illness. One man was supported to have a peaceful death guided by his advance care directive. The other man had not documented his preferences and experienced a death that was painful to watch and must have been unbearable to endure. I was his palliative care physician but felt powerless to help him."

Read the stories

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