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What is Palliative Care and 3 ways you can make a difference

A young woman holds a senior woman's hand as they both smile

Here's what you need to know about palliative care

A young woman holds a senior woman's hand as they both smile

Every May, the Department of Health supports National Palliative Care Week – a week which aims to raise awareness and understanding of palliative care.

And, with 2.8 million unpaid carers in Australia, including palliative carers, here’s what you need to know.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is care that’s given to those who are living with a life-limiting or terminal illness – regardless of how young, or old they are.

However, it’s not just about providing people with basic needs, but ensuring they have the chance to live their life as fully and comfortably as possible; this can include providing a myriad of services, from pain relief to social and cultural support.

Palliative care not only provides assistance to the person living with the illness, but it aims to give practical and emotional support to their family.

With palliative care supporting people with illnesses like cancer, motor neurone disease and lung disease, it’s likely you or someone you know will come into contact with palliative care.

How can I make a difference?

It can be devastating to see people you love experience the pain and grief of living with a serious illness, so how can you help?

We spoke with Liz Callaghan, Palliative Care Australia CEO to get some tips on how you can help support a friend or family member with a terminal illness.

A young nurse laughs with two senior women over coffee and cake

1. Have a conversation

“A two-way, open conversation will enable everyone involved in the care of a person to work towards setting appropriate care goals for them based on their wants and needs.” – Liz Callaghan

Talking about dying won’t kill you and it’s important that you spend time with your loved one, discussing what’s important to them. Palliative Care Australia has developed a Dying to Talk Discussion Starter that can make having those conversations easier and can be used by anyone, including those accessing aged care.

2. Get informed

“People with serious illnesses and their loved ones must be aware of what palliative care is, how to access it and who provides it.” – Liz Callaghan

Palliative Care is holistic care that helps people to live well with a serious or terminal illness and focuses on quality of life, comfort and dignity. It is also supports family members and carers through the course of the person’s illness and continues the support after their death.
A specialist palliative care services team will approach and collaborate with other health providers, to ensure that care provided is focused on the whole individual, their physical, emotional, practical and spiritual needs.

If you are unsure whether you’re eligible for palliative care, you should talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about your options.

A young male nurse and two senior women smile at the camera

3. Support the supporters

“People caring for others with serious illnesses need support too. Often they are dealing with their own sense of loss and grief and need to have support networks in place to ensure they get time to themselves to reduce the risk of burn out.” – Liz Callaghan

It’s not just those suffering the illness that need support, but their friends and family too. This means palliative care is everyone’s responsibility – neighbours, workmates and community members.

Liz explains that the first step is to understand a person’s emotions and feelings.

"People need time to work through the pain that comes from loss. Grief is a process, rather like going on a journey without a map. There is no formula for what should happen. It will be helpful to the person and their family to know you’ll be there to support them, whatever comes along."

Then, it’s about taking the time to listen to them.

Grief is a process, rather like going on a journey without a map. There is no formula for what should happen.

“Everyone’s experience is different. Be prepared to listen. Every person’s experience is one they have to make as an individual. You can help make this emotional experience a little less lonely by offering a kind ear, a cup of tea and allowing them to speak as much as they need.”

Regardless of how close you are to a person, there are always practical ways to help out – and they don’t necessarily have to take a whole lot of time or effort.

“Offer to provide a meal, walk the dog or pick up milk. Taking on small tasks may allow the person’s primary carer to attend a meeting, a child's sporting event or take a much deserved break.”

nib foundation is currently providing a grant to Palliative Care Australia to develop an app that serves as a registry of care for people with a life-limiting illness. The project will allow the person who is dying and/or their primary carer to share specific needs and enable their wider circle of friends and family to help out with practical daily tasks – whether it be a ride to their doctor’s appointment, or someone to water their plants and pick-up their groceries. This app will be launching in late 2017.

At nib, our range of covers offers benefits for palliative care. If you would like more information about how to access palliative care, call us on 13 16 42.

A young nurse smiles at a man in palliative care playing a guitar

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