People and their families with the following conditions may benefit from palliative care.

  • Progressive dementia
  • People dying as a result of the ageing process
  • Advanced heart disease
  • Advanced respiratory disease
  • End-stage renal failure
  • End-stage liver disease
  • Secondary cancers
  • Degenerative neurological conditions

Specialist palliative care is care provided by those who have undergone specific training and/or accreditation in palliative care/medicine working in the context of an expert interdisciplinary team of palliative care health professionals and the designated service system funded to deliver palliative care.1 These services support people with life limiting illness in a number of ways, including:

  • direct care for people requiring specialist palliative care interventions for management of complex symptoms/care needs
  • consultation and advice to other services and health care teams providing end of life care
  • education and training on palliative care and end of life issues
  • undertaking and disseminating research about caring for the dying and their families/carers.

Not everyone with a life limiting illness will require access to specialist palliative care. In many instances, the most valuable role specialist palliative care can play is to support other healthcare teams and professionals to provide end of life care to their patients.

All patients with a life limiting illness and their families and carers will require support and care from health professionals who understand and are skilled in the palliative approach to care.

A palliative approach to care incorporates an holistic approach that considers and meets all aspects of the person’s and their families, physical, emotional, spiritual and psychosocial needs.

A palliative approach to care emphasises comfort and quality of life and involves a team approach to care.

A palliative approach to care also considers some of the challenges for older people as they near the end of life:

  • loss of independence
  • having to rely more on others for assistance
  • losing control of their life
  • not being able to think as clearly as they used to
  • changes in physical appearance and functional abilities
  • depression/anxiety
  • increased social isolation and/or feelings of loneliness
  • not feeling valued
  • feeling a sense of being a burden to others
  • not being treated with respect or understanding.

1. Cherny N. et al (eds) 2015, Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine, Fifth Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 10.