Palliative care and end of life care are related but different caregiving approaches. They both deal with serious and often incurable diseases such as dementia, motor neurone disease, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and cancer. However, palliative care can be provided to anyone with these conditions, whereas end of life care is only given in the last stages of someone’s life.
Palliative care is care given to those who have serious, life-limiting or incurable conditions, and is aimed at maximising their comfort and quality of life. Palliative care focuses on managing symptoms, minimising pain and providing emotional support. It can be provided at any stage during an illness and doesn’t just address physical symptoms, but cares for the person holistically and also supports their loved ones.
End of life care does have many similarities to palliative care, as it is often given to those suffering with similar conditions and illnesses. However, while palliative care can be given at any stage in an illness, end of life care is specifically aimed at those in their last year of life. It aims to reduce pain and physical symptoms, provide emotional support to the patient and their family, and to create a comfortable and dignified environment in their last days.
Palliative care can last for any length of time, from a few days or weeks, to many years. This approach can be chosen any time after a patient receives a diagnosis. It could be adopted for a short period of care, for example following a hospital admission, or it could be continued for many years, if someone’s condition is deteriorating more gradually.
Conditions and illnesses which receive palliative care are usually serious and life-limiting, but it is not only given at the end of someone’s life. It’s also used to provide neurological care to people with progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and motor neurone disease. These illnesses cannot be cured and the patient’s condition will deteriorate but in many cases they still have years to live, so palliative care can help with maintaining a good quality of life.
Palliative care isn’t only for those no longer receiving treatment. For example, non-terminal cancer patients may receive palliative care while having chemotherapy or radiotherapy to help manage the side effects and emotional impact. In some cases palliative care may continue until the end of someone’s life, or they may transition to specialist end of life care which focuses on helping people die peacefully and with dignity.
The kind of palliative care a patient receives depends on their specific situation. Palliative care is provided in different locations, such as a hospital, care home, hospice, or at home. Care is coordinated and administered by GPs, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, specialists such as oncologists, cardiologists, as well as counsellors and spiritual support staff.
Most palliative care plans involve the following elements:
Palliative care doesn’t treat or cure illnesses but instead manages symptoms. Most often this involves managing and reducing pain so that the patient can be more comfortable. However, palliative care also tend to other physical symptoms, including:
When someone has been dealing with a lot of pain, family distress, and treatments with unpleasant side effects over a long period of time, it can take a toll mentally. This is also true for someone who has been diagnosed with a progressive condition and knows their symptoms are only going to get worse, or who knows that they are going to pass away.
This is why palliative care often emphasises emotional and spiritual care. Talking to someone such as a counsellor, therapist or representative of their faith about their feelings can help someone to feel more at peace and alleviate their worries.
Palliative care plans consider the impact serious and incurable conditions can have not only on the patient but also on those around them. That’s why palliative care will often involve providing emotional and practical support to relatives and friends in order to help them deal with the difficult situation they are facing.
The support provided can involve counselling and spiritual support, legal and financial advice, and giving them the opportunity to take breaks from caregiving in order to rest or spend quality time with their loved one.