It’s normal to feel wary if a doctor or carer has brought up the term ‘palliative care’, but knowing more about this type of support can really help. Here, we cover what palliative care is, its importance in aged care, where you can find resources and some clear next steps. 

What is palliative care in aged care?

Palliative care is a specialised form of care that aims to improve quality of life for people living with a life-limiting or chronic illness. This can include end-of-life care in some cases. 

Palliative care can include a very wide range of support types, from pain and symptom management, to coordination between your healthcare professionals, to emotional support and things like physical therapies and massage. People of all ages receive palliative care, and it can be particularly relevant later in life as illnesses such as diabetes, respiratory diseases and heart issues can arise as we get older.

Depending on the needs of yourself or your loved one, palliative care in aged care can be delivered in a home setting, a hospice or hospital, or in a residential aged care setting. 

How does palliative care differ from end-of-life care?

Where palliative care provides support that helps with the effects of a life-limiting illness, end-of-life care is specifically tailored to assist in the last stages of a person’s life. These two care types can overlap – for example, if someone’s illness progresses. 

What’s vital in every palliative care situation is that the person is receiving all the medical, physical, emotional and spiritual support they might need.

Who can benefit from palliative care in aged care?

Palliative care can support people with serious illnesses as well as their carers and loved ones. To provide just one example, research has shown that people with serious cancers have better outcomes if they access palliative care soon after their diagnosis. They can have a better quality of life, understand their prognosis better, and may also live longer

Palliative care can also minimise urgent hospitalisation through the proactive management of symptoms and illness. Not only does this make things more comfortable for someone who is unwell, but it can also reduce pressure on carers and families as well as the wider Australian healthcare system.

How can palliative care support the quality of life of seniors in aged care?

Whatever shape it takes, the right care can help you to live life fully and enjoy the things you love to do. Palliative care can enable a better quality of life in a variety of ways, from minimising pain and the effects of symptoms like nausea, through to supporting broader wellbeing via services like counselling and physiotherapy. Palliative care could include the provision of specialised equipment to aid mobility, tailored medication, and complementary therapies like massage or acupuncture. Ultimately, the best care is tailored and empowering.

How does palliative care empower seniors and their carers?

Empowered palliative care ensures that the person living with the illness has choice and control over the support they’re receiving – that they are, in a true sense, a partner in their own care. This empowerment can be particularly important when there is a significant diagnosis, which can make things feel like a lot of choice and control has been taken away.

What kind of pain management is available in palliative care?

Pain can accompany many of the serious illnesses that are associated with palliative care. Pain can take the form of physical pain or aches, fatigue or sensations (or lack of), and such discomfort can be very tiring and emotionally draining. 

Fortunately a lot of pain can be controlled or relieved with effective pain management. Serious illnesses may require the use of opioids or other powerful pain medications, and these prescriptions need to be carefully and thoughtfully managed. A person’s care journey may include working with a specialist palliative care physician who will develop a tailored care plan, including complex pain management as needed.

What can I expect if I access palliative care for myself or a loved one in aged care?

The first thing to expect is that palliative care is designed to help, and is not something to be feared. If you or a loved one are experiencing pain, discomfort or other symptoms from a chronic condition, palliative care can be a helpful next step to find some support and relief.

If you already live at an Aurrum Aged Care home, either in Victoria or New South Wales, we can help guide you to the right level of care as your needs change. We always work directly with each resident to find the best support for their healthcare and wellbeing.

How can carers and family members support their loved one in palliative care?

It can be really difficult to see a loved one suffering or changing because of illness. Here are a few things you can do to support them.

    • Help to choose the right provider
      You may be able to help by researching providers, writing a list of important questions or by choosing a care home with your loved one.
    • Provide a sense of the familiar
      Whether at home or in care, try to surround your loved one with their personal items such as a homemade quilt or their favourite books.
    • Keep up the regular contact
      It’s important to feel connected. Try to arrange visits at a good time of day for your loved one, and involve them in your news and events.
  • Notice the little things
    This can be as simple as washing cups as you visit, watering plants or providing an update on the person’s pets.
  • Ask how you can help
    You may be able to make a big difference by fulfilling specific requests like picking up some new magazines or planning an outing.

Finally, keep in mind that there are resources to support you as a carer, including Australia’s Carer Gateway.

What happens if a loved one passes away in palliative care?

It’s important to remember that you can take all the time you need if a loved one passes away.

If your loved one is in residential care, your care team will assist with many of the things that must happen after someone passes away such as notifying the required authorities and arranging for next steps. We are here to provide support and resources for families in bereavement. 

What resources are available to help seniors and carers understand and access palliative care in aged care?

There are a lot of resources available, whether you are a carer or someone living with a chronic illness.

  • Palliative Care Australia is the national peak body for palliative care, which provides information and support for patients and their carers, family and friends.
  • Australia’s Carer Gateway offers a palliative guide for carers looking after someone who might require end-of-life care. 
  • The Department of Health and Aged Care also has a list of palliative care resources that can be of assistance.

And finally, your aged care team is here to answer all of your questions and help you navigate your care journey.

Book a visit today

Aurrum Aged Care provides exceptional aged care, including personalised palliative care for those with life-limiting illness. If you are looking for the right care for yourself or your loved one or are considering moving to aged care, you can book a visit to any of our NSW or Victorian care homes with no obligation. You can also contact our friendly team on 1800 287 786 with questions at any time.