What is Palliative Care?

Gracewell  |  November 1, 2019

If either you or a loved one is faced with a life-limiting illness, you may encounter the terms palliative care or end of life care. But what is palliative care and how does it differ to end of life care?

To understand what palliative care is, it’s important to know about end of life care overall. End of life care refers to the treatment, care and support someone who is nearing the end of their life may receive. Whilst end of life care includes palliative care, palliative care can also refer to the support that is available to an individual throughout the entirety of their illness.

What is end of life care?

End of life care may occur over a short timeframe, from the last year of life to someone’s last weeks or days, in order to make things as comfortable as possible for them in the time they have left, such as managing physical pain or getting emotional support.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care refers to specialised medical care that aims to help an individual to have a good quality of life, usually over a longer timeframe – sometimes, right from the point of diagnosis. Therefore, it isn’t just for the end of life, but may be provided earlier in an illness, alongside other therapies and treatments.

Palliative care can help an individual to manage their pain and distressing symptoms through support including medicines, physiotherapy or complementary therapy.

When looking at what palliative care is in a wider sense, it can also include a ‘holistic’ approach to care, mainly through providing psychological, social and spiritual support to the individual and their family or carers. Namely, it is care for the ‘whole’ person, not only a set of symptoms or illnesses. This means that palliative care isn’t only about treating physical symptoms, but caring for emotional, psychological, social and other needs too. Crucially, palliative care includes family and friends – palliative care teams understand that life-limiting illnesses can have a large impact upon a person’s loved ones.

Healthcare professionals can provide palliative care as part of their role. Throughout a person’s illness, the professionals involved in their care can recommend the best kind of care and support, with a final decision being made by the individual and their loved ones and carers. This will include general health and social care professionals, such as GPs, district or community nurses, social workers and care workers, who can provide day-to-day palliative care.

Palliative care can also be provided by specialist care professionals who are experts in palliative care with specific training and experience in the area, such as palliative care doctors, nurse specialists, counsellors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. Usually, they can support with more complex care problems rather than day-to-day activities or issues.

It is important to note that palliative care can be provided in a myriad of different settings – it doesn’t just refer to care provided in a hospice, but environments including an individual’s own home, a hospital or a care home, and can be provided amongst other ongoing treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Ultimately, palliative care does not mean that an individual is at the end of their life – it serves many people with a life-threatening or terminal illness but can also help an individual to stay on track with their health goals.

If you or a loved one would benefit from receiving palliative care, it is best to speak to a GP about the care and support that is available in your local area. Gracewell Healthcare provides high-quality and personalised care to individuals, in order to make things as comfortable as possible in what can be a hugely challenging time. To find out more, visit www.gracewell.co.uk.