Jul 21, 2022

Palliative care vs end of life care

What is palliative care? People think palliative care is the end of someone’s life, but there’s so much more to it.

Busting myths about palliative care

Many people wonder if palliative care and end-of-life care are the same, however, while they can overlap in some ways, the two are distinctly different and serve different purposes.

In this article we break down these two forms of compassionate care that aim to improve the quality of life of people facing life limiting illnesses. We’ll also look at how this care can help support those who need it along with their family and carers.  

Difference between palliative care and end of life care

In a nutshell, palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of anyone with a life-limiting illness, and end-of-life care is offered to people at the last stages of life to make them more comfortable. While it’s possible for a person to receive palliative care and recover; a person receiving end-of-life care (as the name suggests) has a terminal illness, is close to death and has stopped receiving curative treatments. However, there’s a bit more to it than that! Here’s how they differ:

Palliative care

Who is it for?

Palliative care is a type of comfort care and support for people with a life-limiting illness or chronic condition, regardless of where they are at in their life expectancy. Care is designed to be holistic and improve the quality of life for the person with a life threatening or life-limiting illness and also offer support to their family and friends.

What’s the purpose of palliative care?

Palliative care is designed to maximise someone’s quality of life through care, various treatments and various types of support, from physical symptom management and mental health care to social connection and spiritual support.   

Palliative care approach, treatments and support

The approach and treatment is guided by the specific person and their family’s needs as opposed to their prognosis, and many people receive palliative care alongside curative treatment. Palliative care services are also offered to family and friends, especially in the form of emotional support such as counselling to help manage stress and difficult emotions such as grief and anger. Sometimes palliative care also includes practical support in things such as managing finances or making a will.

When should someone be offered palliative care?

Ideally, palliative care should be offered to anyone suffering from a life limiting or life threatening illnesses, regardless of their prognosis or stage of serious illness. Because palliative care is designed to enhance quality of life through various treatments and support services, it’s an invaluable service that can help a patient and their loved ones navigate a very challenging situation and receive additional support, whether it’s pain management for physical symptoms or relaxation strategies such as music therapy and massage. People often assume palliative care is only for people with pain and other symptoms who are at the very last stage of life, but that’s typically end-of-life care. In fact, someone receiving palliative care may actually recover from not just the physical symptoms but also their life threatening or life-limiting illness.

Palliative care should also be offered to a patient or their family and friends when they're feeling the emotional weight of a life limiting illness. As mentioned, palliative care is not simply pain management, but it’s much more holistic than that. Palliative care services and treatments do include pain management and alleviating physical suffering, but a big part of palliative care is also offering emotional, spiritual, social and even practical support through various care services.

End-of-life care

Who is it for?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, end-of-life care typically refers to the 12 months prior to death, in contrast to palliative care which is typically care specifically tailored to assist with the effects of life-limiting illnesses. It is a specific type of care available for people who have been given 12 months or less to live and who have stopped curative treatment. You can also receive palliative care while you receive end-of-life care. It’s also offered to family and friends to help them process grief or make practical arrangements for the passing of their loved one.

What’s the purpose of end-of-life care?

End-of-life care also aims to improve quality of life, however, it's a service that’s available for patients with terminal illness during their final stage of life. During this period, which is usually weeks or months, the body starts to shut down and the person may lose mobility or the ability to consume food, beverages or medications. End-of-life care aims to make the person with terminal illness as comfortable as possible without compromising their level of consciousness too much.

End-of-life care approach, treatments and support

Palliative care is designed to make it easier for you to live your life to the fullest while dealing with a serious illness, whereas end-of-life care is more about managing the effects of rapid deterioration as someone approaches death. It may be difficult to eat and drink and a person’s decline might be characterised by weight loss, immobility and loss of consciousness. Treatment may involve pain medication such as morphine, repositioning someone to relieve pressure or intravenous medication or a drip to help with dehydration. It might involve music therapy but lifestyle activities are less common. Practical support may include helping the person and their family with making funeral arrangements or having a professional attend for spiritual support at the last days or moments of life.

When should someone be offered end-of-life care?

Someone should be offered end-of-life care when they’ve been given six months or less to live and curative treatments have stopped. It offers critical support to people who are in the process of dying and ensure they are able to live as comfortably as possible for their remaining time left. It also benefits family and loved ones by offering emotional and practical support to manage the situation and challenges.

Nurse helping woman in palliative care
holding hands

Palliative care at IRT

At IRT, many of our aged care centres offer specialised palliative care and end-of-life care in a supportive and calm environment where our palliative care team puts the individual first. Participating care centres offer 'Serenity' neighbourhoods: defined areas which offer specialised palliative care to help residents manage symptoms and access the personalised care and support they need to manage a life-limiting illness. We also have a Namaste program at participating care centres that focuses on treatments such as therapeutic touch, aromatherapy, and music therapy.

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