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Changing the conversation around end of life care

This national Palliative Care week, service providers are working to shift our cultural views on dying.

The awkwardness around discussing death is often the biggest obstacle to receiving appropriate end of life care and funeral services (Source: Shutterstock)
The awkwardness around discussing death is often the biggest obstacle to receiving appropriate end of life care and funeral services (Source: Shutterstock)

According to Palliative Care Australia, while 82 percent of Australians think it’s important to talk with family about their end of life care wishes, only 28 percent have done so.

In fact, less than 5 percent of Australians have end of life plans, and about 45 percent die without a will, often due to an accident or unexpected illness.

In western cultures where death is seen as a taboo topic, the awkwardness around discussing death is often the biggest obstacle to receiving appropriate end of life care and funeral services.

The Australian Centre for Health Research argues that a shift in culture is needed to stop many people experience pain in the final months of their lives, and dying in a way they would not have chosen.

“We aren’t supposed to live forever and having a peaceful death with family present is a wonderful thing. A good death is as important as a successful resuscitation,” says Dr. Ashleigh Witt in the Centre’s 2016 report.

The report recommends having comprehensive conversations around death early, before an illness makes it necessary.

The Grattan Institute identified in its 2014 report 'Dying Well' that most people in fact have strong preferences for how they want to be cared for and the end of their life, but rarely have the open conversations needed to formulate effective plans.

As part of National Palliative Care Week, Palliative Care Australia is offering a free discussion starter resource, to help facilitate those tough conversations with both family and health care providers.

The Deeble Institute will also host an end-of-life care workshop for Palliative Care Week that will focus on policy and practical aspects of end-of-life care.

National Palliative Care Week runs from the 21st to the 28th of May, with a focus this year on aged care.

Research estimates suggest that as many as 50 - 90 percent of all people who die could have benefited from access to palliative care services.

Palliative Care Australia CEO, Liz Callaghan, says that ‘maximising the quality of life and ensuring a good death,’ for the 350,000 Australians in aged care is important.

She stressed that members of the community need to be proactive about discussing their wishes with loved ones and asking aged care providers about their end of life palliative services.

“It’s important to know what strategies [the aged care service] has in place to deliver care that aligns with the needs and wants of the individual,” she says.

“PCA will use this year’s Palliative Care Week to thank those aged care providers delivering high quality, person centred care at the end of life.”

Aged & Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow says palliative and end-of-life care were important elements of the overall service delivered by the aged care industry.

“Palliative care is core business for aged care providers and we need to ensure that those we look after receive the best care possible,” Ms Sparrow says.

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