Palliative care is a specialized form of healthcare that emphasizes the relief of symptoms, advanced care planning, and enhancing the overall quality of life for patients. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that this type of care is only intended for those in the advanced stages of a terminal illness. However, palliative care can be provided at any stage of an illness, and it can span several years, depending on the individual’s needs. Understanding the 5 stages of palliative care can be helpful in determining when and how to initiate this form of care.
5 Stages of Palliative Care
Palliative care involves five stages that are important for understanding and making decisions for your own care, as well as ensuring that you and your family receive the appropriate support throughout the process.
Stage 1: Creating a plan
The first stage of end-of-life care stages is about creating a plan, which involves working with your GP and other medical professionals involved in your care to determine the palliative care services you need. This includes considering your current and future treatment plan, the expected progression of your illness, essential medicines and symptom relief, as well as your initial care preferences. During this stage, you may also start a conversation about your wishes, such as an advanced decision, a Lasting Power of Attorney, or a living will, but it’s okay if you’re not ready for this yet. If you do decide to make an advanced decision, it will outline the circumstances under which you would refuse treatment or resuscitation, in case you are unable to communicate your wishes in the future. It’s important to discuss the implications of this decision with a doctor, as it is a significant part of your care plan.
Stage 2: Preparing emotionally
During the second stage of palliative care, emotional preparation becomes the focus. If you agreed to a certain level of care during the first stage, a social worker, counselor, and a religious or spiritual professional will work together to provide you and your family with the emotional support needed to help you prepare for the future. This support can take many forms, such as providing a safe space to discuss your emotions with a qualified therapist, connecting you with chaplaincy services to help you explore ideas around meaning and purpose, or introducing you to complementary therapies like massage or music therapy. The aim is to help you cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of your illness and ensure that you feel supported throughout this process.
Stage 3: Early-stage care
The third stage of palliative care focuses on early-stage care, where your healthcare professionals will assess all aspects of care to help you maintain your independence. If you receive care at home, this may involve sourcing assistance for daily living from visiting carers or providing you with specialist equipment. Community care nurses may arrange for you to receive an adjustable bed or a relieving mattress on loan, or provide you with oxygen cylinders or nebulizers if you experience shortness of breath. The goal is to make your home environment safe and comfortable so that you can maintain your independence for as long as possible.
Stage 4: Late-stage care
During the fourth stage of hospice care stages, your healthcare team will help you plan for more permanent, late-stage care. At this point, discussions about hospice care often take place. If you choose to remain at home, your healthcare team and social worker can assist you in arranging live-in care with a provider who has an acute understanding of your condition or illness.
This stage marks the beginning of end-of-life care, where the focus shifts towards ensuring your comfort and dignity during your final days. Your healthcare team will work closely with you and your loved ones to manage symptoms, provide pain relief, and ensure that you have emotional and spiritual support during this time. The goal is to help you feel as comfortable as possible and to ensure that your wishes and preferences are respected throughout the process.
Stage 5: Supporting your loved ones
The fifth and final stage of palliative care for cancer patients and the elderly involves providing support to your loved ones after your passing. Your palliative care team will offer bereavement support to your family and friends, typically for a period of 12 months. This support may include counseling, therapy, and other resources to help them cope with their grief and adjust to life without you. The goal is to ensure that your loved ones receive the support they need during this difficult time and to help them remember and honor your memory in a meaningful way.
Palliative care doesn’t have a specific starting point, but it’s generally recommended to seek support earlier rather than later. The decision to begin palliative care ultimately depends on your readiness and need for additional support in managing a chronic illness.
Although every illness is unique, life-limiting conditions often present similar symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and pain. Palliative care benefits from accessing support from healthcare professionals with the appropriate palliative care experts can include finding relief from physical and emotional discomfort, enabling you to focus on spending quality time with your loved ones. By seeking palliative care early, you can establish a care plan that addresses your individual needs and preferences, providing you with the best possible quality of life throughout your illness.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is palliative care and when is it needed?
Palliative care is a type of medical care that aims to improve the quality of life for people with serious illnesses. It is recommended when additional support is needed to manage a chronic illness.
2. What are the goals of palliative care?
The goals of palliative care are to improve the quality of life for individuals with serious illnesses, manage symptoms, provide emotional and spiritual support, and facilitate discussions about end-of-life care.