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What you should know about palliative care

When people are offered palliative care, it can lead some older people to lose hope and think they are about to die soon. However, that is one big misconception about palliative care.

Key points:

  • Palliative care is not just for the end of life

  • It is possible to receive palliative care in the comfort of your own home

  • Palliative care doesn't have to be expensive, it is often free or subsidised

Woman receiving palliative care
There are a lot of misconceptions that float around about palliative care that needs to be debunked. [Source: Shutterstock]

While palliative care workers are involved in end of life care, it provides so much more than that and involves many different types of services to recipients.

Here are five misconceptions about the service that Palliative Care Australia (PCA) wants people to know.

1. "Palliative care is only for end of life care"

In a lot of instances, palliative care workers will become involved during the early diagnosis or stages of a terminal or life-limiting illness. 

Usually, the community associates palliative care as  a service for when someone is about to pass away.

However, this is not always the case and sometimes a person starts receiving palliative care quite early on and have access to supports for a long time.

PCA is committed to making sure people understand the many facets of palliative care services.

Kate Reed-Cox, National Clinical Advisor for PCA, says, "Improving the understanding that palliative care is much more than most people think can encourage people to discuss accessing these services early and, even if they indeed have no curative hopes, to live their lives as comfortably as possible. 

"Palliative care can dramatically improve quality of life and can help with the grief and bereavement needs of family members and loved ones."

2. "I don't want to travel for palliative care"

Many people worry that they will have to go into a hospital or hospice to get access to palliative care services.

But palliative care services are accessible from many areas, including your home, in your residential aged care facility, or at a general practice or primary health clinic.

Generally, palliative care workers want to meet your needs and wishes and make sure you are comfortable. So if you want to receive care in a specific place then your palliative care team will try to accommodate your requests, within reason.

3. "It will be expensive"

Often, people believe that palliative care services are quite expensive because it involves such a specialised type of care. But in fact, palliative care is usually free or covered mostly by Australia's MBS (Medicare Benefits Schedule) funding.

If you are living in a hospice or hospital care situation, or even a residential aged care facility, there may be some costs associated with that accommodation.

These charges can vary from State to Territory, where you are geographically located, and the type of palliative care you are seeking.

4. "I don't want to worry family about how much pain I am in"

Palliative care is meant to manage your pain levels, which can only be done if you are honest with your care team.

In some cases, people may only tell their doctor about the pain when it starts to get really bad.

But for palliative care staff, it is easier to manage pain in its early stages, which provides a good start to the ongoing management of pain and symptoms.

Ms Reed-Cox recommends always being honest with your health team about any pain you are experiencing.

Additionally, palliative care is more than just pain management. 

Palliative care services usually include assisting the family and friends in dealing with the process, link you to other services like home assistance or financial support, make sure all your cultural or religious obligations are met, support your emotional or spiritual concerns, provide counselling and grief support, and so much more.

5. "Talking about death is uncomfortable"

Even though a large amount of Australians believe they should talk about end of life care and their wishes, in most instances, only a small portion of people actually talk with their loved ones about their wishes or final day plans.

"Discussions about death and dying can be uncomfortable at first, but there are resources to help," says Ms Reed-Cox.

Many people also find that talking about death can be quite useful in coming to terms with end of life situations and result in better palliative care outcomes.

Other considerations

If you are living in aged care, most aged care workers and clinical staff with your facilities can often provide some form of palliative care to their residents.

Usually, a GP or palliative care nurse practitioner will visit the facility to provide further or enhanced palliative care.

If your needs become more complex or difficult to manage, you will be referred to a specialist palliative care service. A health professional from the specialist service may be able to visit the facility you live in to provide the care, depending on the location and available services in that area.

What misconceptions did you have about palliative care? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

What is palliative care for?
Palliative care: How does it impact someone's life?
What is an Advance Care Directive?

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