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Importance of spiritual care for palliative patients highlighted for Palliative Care Week

In recognition of National Palliative Care Week, the national peak body for palliative care, Palliative Care Australia, and the national peak body for spiritual care and ageing, Meaningful Ageing Australia, have called for aged care models to include specialist spiritual care support.

Palliative Care Australia and Meaningful Ageing Australia have called for a universal understanding of the importance of spirituality and spiritual care for palliative patients (Source: Shutterstock)
Palliative Care Australia and Meaningful Ageing Australia have called for a universal understanding of the importance of spirituality and spiritual care for palliative patients (Source: Shutterstock)

Both bodies are calling for a universal understanding of the importance of spirituality and spiritual care for people nearing the end of their life, and that this be recognised by aged and palliative care providers.

In a Joint Position Statement released today, both bodies called on all aged care organisations to recognise the importance of spirituality and spiritual care for people receiving end of life and palliative care, as well as the inclusion of specialised spiritual care support in aged care funding models.

The statement also outlines the need for development in the aged care workforce to ensure recognition of patient’s spiritual needs and consistent spiritual screening and assessment of all people in aged care.

Meaningful Ageing Australia Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ilsa Hampton says spirituality is broader than religion.  

“Spirituality embraces the way we seek and express meaning and purpose [and] the way we experience our connection to the moment, ourselves, others, our world and the significant or sacred,” Ms Hampton says.

“Spirituality and spiritual care can become particularly significant for people as they reach the end of their lives and we have developed this position statement to highlight the importance of access to spiritual care and support for people in community and residential aged care.”

The Australian Government’s Guidelines for Palliative Approach in Residential Aged Care, which was released over 10 years ago, was established to highlight the importance of palliative care for people in community based and residential aged care as they reach the end of their lives.

Palliative Care Australia CEO Liz Callaghan says the position statement notes that a primary goal of those guidelines was to improve the person’s level of physical comfort and function, while providing addressing their psychological, spiritual and social needs.

“Palliative care in any setting is not just about meeting a person’s physical and medical needs,” Ms Callaghan says.

“Palliative Care Australia and Meaningful Ageing Australia consider spiritual care to be an integral part of palliative care, yet it can be an element of care that is too often overlooked or neglected.

“In the position paper, we call for recognition and for resourcing of spiritual care and for aged care staff to be trained and supported to be aware of and meet the spiritual care needs of aged care clients and residents.”

Research shows that spiritual support is an important factor in assuring the overall wellbeing of palliative care patients. Spiritual care and support has been shown to result in greater longevity, improved coping skills and increased hope, leading to a reduction in anxiety and depression.

The research also shows that quality of life scores were higher among those receiving specialised spiritual care visits and medical support with a focus on spiritual care.

The paper also outlines the role of spiritual care in supporting families and staff with grief following the death of a patient, friend or family member.

“We consider this to be a big gap in aged care funding and resource,” Ms Callaghan and Ms Hampton say. 

 “Spiritual care can benefit everyone approaching the end of life, not just those who identify as religious, and for that reason we believe it is an integral but overlooked part of palliative and aged care.”

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