What is Palliative Care

What is Palliative Care?

Learn what a focus on quality of life means for your care

Palliative care is care and support for people with a life-limiting illness. That is, an illness that disrupts your natural life course. This means that you will die sooner than you would have without the illness. The aim of palliative care is to help people live their life comfortably and as fully as possible by supporting their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. This includes support for their family and carers.

What care might be required?

As your illness progresses there will be changes over time. This means the care you need will change. You may need:

  • relief from distressing symptoms including:
    • pain
    • depression
    • fatigue (tiredness)
    • nausea
    • breathlessness (dyspnoea)
    • anxiety
    • psychological and spiritual support;
  • a support system to help patients and family live as actively as possible until death;
  • support to help the family cope during the person’s illness and in their own bereavement.

Palliative care enhances quality of life. It intends neither to hasten or postpone death.

Who is palliative care for?

Palliative care is for people of any age with a life-limiting illness and their families. A life-limiting illness is one likely to cause death in the foreseeable future and can affect people of any age. This includes:

  • cancer,
  • neurological disease,
  • dementia, and
  • advanced kidney, heart, liver, and lung disease.

Family can include partners, relatives, friends, or anyone who is considered so by the patient (including pets).

When is it provided?

Palliative care can be provided at any time depending on a person’s needs. It is now accepted that combining palliative care with active treatment improves symptom control, quality of life, and family satisfaction.

When you receive palliative care is a decision for you and your family. To learn more visit our page on Referral to Palliative Care.

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative care can be provided by many different health and care professionals. In a hospital setting it is provided by doctors, palliative specialists, nurses and allied health professionals. In the community the palliative care team might include the person’s GP, community and aged care nurses, visiting allied health professionals, careworkers and support workers. Family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances will also provide important support. For more on this visit our page on Who Provides Palliative Care?

Where is it provided?

Palliative care may be provided in hospitals or the community setting. This includes:

  • private homes
  • residential aged care
  • accommodation for people experiencing mental illness
  • accommodation for people living with a disability
  • correctional facilities
  • general practices
  • community palliative care clinics and day centres
  • hospitals.

Not all people with a life limiting illness need specialist palliative care. Many people can be cared for at home, wherever that might be, and see specialist palliative care staff only every now and again when there is a need.

Being able to stay at home with a serious illness usually requires the help of family members or friends. Older people may be receiving palliative care alongside a homecare package or within a residential aged care facility.

A smaller group of patients and carers may have more complex needs and symptoms that need careful management. In this case there may be the continuing involvement of a specialist team and short or longer stays in a hospice or palliative care ward.

Page updated 27 October 2021