When people reach the end of their lives and there is nothing medical professionals can do to postpone death, our thoughts turn to the ways in which we can make their last moments, no matter how long they are, as comfortable, painless and satisfying as possible.

End of life and palliative care aim to provide the highest quality of life possible to those suffering from terminal illnesses by supporting the individual, their families and anyone else affected by their condition.

Although it might seem insensitive to discuss funeral wishes, many families find that the funeral arrangement process is a lot easier if they have conversations with the individual while they are still alive. For more information on funeral plans, visit our dedicated page.

Generally, the term is used to refer to those with less than a year to live, although this isn’t always the case, and it is used to encourage advanced planning and to ensure the patient’s wishes are respected.


What is end of life and palliative care?

End of life and palliative care can be roughly defined by the following principles:

  • Making the patient as comfortable as possible by managing pain and other symptoms
  • Providing support so the patient can achieve the best quality of life and live as actively as possible up until death
  • Offering a support system to help the family cope with the consequences of their loved one’s condition, and, after death, continuing to support the family in their bereavement
  • Working with the individual, the family, and the community in the provision of care
  • An approach that neither hastens nor postpones death


Who provides end of life and palliative care?

Care is provided by a wide range of trained professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, counsellors and health specialists that have experience of particular diseases. This diverse array of individuals are necessary because the palliative philosophy involves taking a holistic approach to care.

Care doesn’t just focus on physical symptoms but aims to support the patient psychologically, socially and spiritually. Some of those supporting the patient will be specifically trained in palliative care and will have in depth-knowledge and years of experience, making them an invaluable part of the team.


What is an advanced care plan?

An advanced care plan is a plan of action drawn up by the patient and either a doctor or palliative care specialist that details exactly what they would like their palliative care to be like.

This includes important considerations, such as the following:

  • Where they would prefer the care to take place.
  • Their preferences when it comes to medication.
  • How they want to control pain.
  • Whether they would like to receive certain types of treatment if their condition worsens.

It may also detail where they would prefer to die.


Why is an advanced care plan important?

An advanced care plan is important because it clarifies exactly what should happen should the condition worsen or the patient becomes unable to make or take important decisions about their own care.

This is particularly common with illnesses like dementia, where patients may have lost the ability to determine what is in their own best interest. Similarly, some cancer sufferers feel particularly strongly about choosing where they would like to pass away, at home for example, and this can also be communicated in an advanced care plan.

If the patient wishes to formally entrust their medical care to someone else, they can appoint a Medical Power of Attorney. This individual is then the first point of contact for care providers and is able to make some decisions concerning their care and treatment.

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