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The 5 stages of Palliative Care

20 September, 2022

If a loved one is facing a chronic, ultimately terminal, illness, it may be time to consider Palliative care. Uniquely administered to each individual, this 5 stages of palliative care support comes alongside people - and their families - as they approach the end of their life.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is specialised, person-centred medical care for people with a serious, life-limiting illness. It is a holistic approach that aims to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family. Unlike curative treatments, which focus on eradicating the disease, palliative care is person-centred and addresses the patient's physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.

This type of care can be provided alongside curative treatments at any stage of the illness. It is not limited to end-of-life care but is beneficial at any stage of a life-limiting illness, helping patients manage symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite. Learn more about the differences between palliative and end-of-life care to understand this distinction better.

This particular type of care focuses on the person's needs, not on their prognosis. 

Learn more about palliative care in our ‘Palliative Care' blog.

Key Aspects of Palliative Care:

  • Symptom Management: Providing relief from symptoms like pain, nausea, and fatigue.

  • Emotional Support: Addressing psychological aspects, such as anxiety and depression.

  • Social Support: Helping patients and families navigate healthcare systems and connect with community resources.

  • Spiritual Care: Supporting the spiritual or religious needs of the patient and family.

What are the 5 stages of palliative care?

Though each experience is different, all palliative care follows through 5 stages. Supporting the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients, family and carers, each stage provides relief from both the symptoms and stress of the situation at hand.

Stage 1: Stable

Palliative care begins with making plans. While you or your loved one is in a stable condition, you'll identify the current symptoms and health problems - and build a plan that treats them.

Teamwork and collaboration are essential components of this phase.

Your palliative care team will organise the necessary support or medical interventions to control current symptoms and enhance quality of life.  

Some of your palliative care team may include:

  • Registered nurses or other healthcare workers

  • Social workers 

  • Dietitians

  • Bereavement counsellors

  • Therapists

Stage 2: Unstable

As the life-limiting illness progresses - either with symptoms worsening or new medical problems arising - you'll progress into the ‘unstable' phase. 

Usually, these new or unexpected symptoms were not anticipated during stage one - and they may require your team to make immediate changes to your care plan.

This second stage is also when the team will orchestrate emotional, spiritual and mental health care support. More often than not, this happens through: 

  • Counselling services (for anxiety and depression), 

  • Religious meetings and gatherings,

  • And recreational/leisure activities.

Stage 3: Deteriorating

In this third stage, symptoms begin to worsen and overall health starts to decline. It's also around this time that more severe/complex medical issues can occur, meaning more readjustments to your care plan.  

Emotional and mental health support is vital in this stage. It can be a distressing time for the patient and their loved ones, especially as their physical state continues to deteriorate. So, it's essential for extra support to be arranged.

Stage 4: Terminal

When the end of life appears imminent (within a few days), you'll enter the fourth stage. Throughout this stage, medical and general physical care can still be provided in-home (read more about at-home palliative care here). 

But, it is possible to move to a hospital setting if extra medical care is necessary. Symptoms that may indicate the arrival of the ‘terminal' stage include:

  • Difficulty swallowing medications

  • A decrease (or loss) of appetite for food and drink

  • Becoming bedridden 

  • More severe mobility problems

  • A prognosis that requires daily medical interventions

Alongside the physical and medical care, your team will focus on psychological, emotional, and spiritual comfort. This is also the time where your care plan make arrangements for end-of-life medications and services.

Stage 5: Bereavement

Sadly, this is the stage in which the patient has passed. As it is a naturally emotional time for loved ones, this phase focuses specifically on supporting the bereaved. 

Some of services that loved ones can access in this stage include:

  • Mental health care, from psychologists or counsellors that can help with feelings of grief and loss after a loved one's death.

  • Spiritual support from your chosen religious or spiritual leader.

  • Emotional support, where the team will connect you with ongoing support groups

Looking for palliative care services?

If you’re making a plan for palliative care, you are providing your loved ones with the best possible support through a challenging time.

At Focus Care, our wide range of services include dedicated in-home care. All our nurses at Focus Care are AHPRA registered and adhere to strict standards and policies to provide the utmost care.

If you don’t have a Home Care Package or NDIS Plan, we also offer all our services privately.

Our private services include an initial, no-obligation consultation, where we get to know you and your individual care needs. This will allow you to make an informed decision about the best fit for yourself and your loved ones.

When you are ready, we are here. 

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