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At-Home Care: Supporting Palliative Care Patients At Home

18 March, 2024

Nothing is more heart-wrenching than seeing those you love suffer pain and discomfort.  When a loved one's health declines, at-home palliative care services can provide dignity, independence and support for the whole family.

What does palliative care involve?

Palliative support includes the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of the patient, their family and carers. The aim is to improve the quality of life for all. 

In this way, palliative support provides relief from both the symptoms and stress of the illness.

 “Palliative support can provide freedom for people who have a life-limiting condition,” says Deb McKern, Focus Care's Director of Community Nursing.

“It's tailored to give personalised comfort measures such as pain management, assisting with physical goals, facilitating communication with friends and family, and understanding the preferences of the individual.”  

Is all palliative care the same?

Palliative assistance varies greatly between patients in terms of both how much support, and the type of support provided.

The community palliative care service model is also designed to adapt to the changing needs of each individual patient as their condition evolves.

In order to achieve this, the palliative care model consists of five stages. Each stage offers a range of medical, psychological and spiritual support services, all designed to support the patient's needs - and the needs of those surrounding them. 

Read more in our stages of palliative care blog. 

Who is palliative care suitable for?

Palliative support is for people of any age who have been diagnosed with a severe illness – it is not the same as end-of-life care.

Your loved one can commence this care at any point during their illness. According to the WHO,  the early implementation of at-home palliative care support can reduce unnecessary hospital admissions. In addition to improving quality of life and helping with symptoms, palliative support can help patients and loved ones understand choices for further medical treatment.

It is important to stress that accepting palliative care does not mean that you and your loved ones are giving up hope.

Many people receive palliative care services while simultaneously undergoing active treatments.

However, people with life limiting illness sometimes find that over time, their focus shifts. They may prefer to concentrate on the things that keep them

What about specialist palliative care services?

Specialist palliative care services offer advanced support for patients with complex needs arising from illness. Often these specialist palliative care providers work with individuals who have life-limiting illnesses. Specialist palliative care services are delivered by a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals, including a specialist palliative care doctor, nurses, social workers, and other specialists who have extensive training in this type of care.

Husband comforting eife with cancer through the challenges with adjusting to palliative care

The challenges involved in palliative care

Many families face challenges when a loved one requires professional palliative services. Families can often feel as though they have failed because they need help. However, opting for professional care can be a show of deep love and respect as it aims to make your loved one's remaining time as meaningful and worthwhile as possible. It can be an important step towards maintaining quality relationships and improving life quality for everyone in the family.

New Medical Challenges

Palliative care can often involve new medical care challenges. The focus of your loved one's care will usually shift to comfort and quality of life and may involve managing new medical treatment, dealing with pain, and maintaining basic health needs like nutrition and hygiene. This process may therefore involve adapting to new medical equipment or medications and this can be a challenging adjustment.

Psychological Challenges

Beyond physical care, adjusting to the reality that your loved one is undergoing palliative treatment can be difficult. In situations where your loved one's illness is life-limiting, the psychological challenges include dealing with anticipatory grief as you prepare for loss, managing the stress and emotional burden of caregiving, and adjusting to changes in family dynamics and roles.

These challenges can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression, highlighting the need for emotional support and counselling for both yourself and your loved one. It's also important to address the end-of-life questions and fears that both the patient and their family may face during this time.

Psychological support can be crucial and can help to address these issues. Counselling can offer emotional support and strategies to support patients and families will these psychological challenges. Cultural considerations are important in a multicultural context like Australia, respecting patient wishes and traditions.

Ethical and Legal Challenges

In palliative care, ethical and legal issues often emerge, encompassing difficult decisions about end-of-life care, the patient's autonomy versus family wishes, and the complexities of consent when the patient cannot make decisions.

These ethical dilemmas are coupled with legal concerns such as power of attorney, patient rights, wills, and advance healthcare directives, including do not resuscitate orders.

Navigating these issues requires careful consideration of the patient's values and beliefs, open communication among family members, and sometimes the guidance of legal professionals to ensure decisions align with both ethical standards and legal requirements, aiming to honour the patient's preferences while providing the best possible care.

Palliative Care at Home vs Inpatient Facilities

Palliative treatment can take place in inpatient palliative care units such as a hospital and a residential care facility, or in the comfort of a home environment, supported by in home care. 

Most Australians would prefer to be cared for at home, with minimal pain and suffering. They hope to be surrounded by friends and family and have easy access to the care they need rather than being in a palliative care unit.

People who choose to receive services in the home settings from a community palliative care team can remain within familiar surroundings, confident that their care isn't compromised. There are many benefits of in-home care:

  • Care is one-on-one and individualised - Home care mean that you and your loved ones have much more say in the care you receive.

  • Shape each day to your liking – Have freedom and autonomy over daily life.

  • Spend unlimited hours with your loved ones - Hospitals and nursing homes typically have set visiting hours, but these restrictions don't exist with at-home palliative services.

  • More affordable by comparison - In-home care may sound expensive but it is typically more affordable than long-term hospital stays. 

Who is involved?

Palliative care is a holistic approach recognising that suffering goes beyond physical symptoms. A team approach supports patients and their loved ones. A palliative care team comprises multiple professionals to provide medical, social, emotional, and practical support. Palliative community services may include:

  • Specialist doctors and nurses

  • Support workers

  • Social workers

  • Counsellors

  • Nutritionists

  • Speech pathologists

  • Physiotherapists

  • Religious representatives

By deciding on at-home palliative care, you are providing your loved one with the comfort of familiar surroundings, valuable time spent together, and the chance to retain their dignity and identity.

How Focus Care Can Help

Focus Care provides high quality aged care and palliative care services. It is a registered provider of aged care services and is committed to helping individuals stay connected to their local community and remain in their own home for as long as possible.

If you have a loved one in need of palliative services please get in touch and speak to our friendly team today to discuss how we can help.

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