What is Palliative Care and Its Use in Home Care?

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What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is commonly known as end-of-life care. It is a specialist type of care offered to people of any age with a life-threatening illness. There are no specific medical conditions that require palliative care but most people requiring palliative care have one or more of the following chronic diseases:

  • Advanced cancer
  • Stroke
  • Lung disease
  • Dementia
  • End-stage liver disease
  • Kidney disease or kidney failure
  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

The main goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life of patients in the final years of their lives by managing their symptoms and providing emotional support.

Symptom Management

Palliative health professionals will work as part of an interdisciplinary team to alleviate symptoms associated with the underlying disease. The most common symptoms associated with terminal illness include:

  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation

Managing symptoms often involves administering medications but alternative therapies are also available. Light exercise, such as walking or stretching, can help reduce fatigue and make patients feel more energised. Other treatments, such as music therapy, have been shown to reduce pain.

Emotional and Spiritual Support

When you are diagnosed with a terminal illness it is common to experience anxiety, fear, and depression. For example, one study found that 17% of terminally ill cancer patients were also clinically depressed.

Healthcare assistants must work with specialist mental health professionals to support their patients’ mental health and when seeking palliative care for a loved one you should ask what provisions they have to support your loved one’s emotional needs. Usually, they will recommend a counsellor and, if appropriate, they may also recommend a religious or spiritual professional.

Spiritual beliefs provide comfort and guidance to patients with terminal illnesses during a difficult time. Palliative care teams should be sensitive to patient’s spiritual needs and facilitate appropriate support. This might involve organising a visit from a chaplain or other religious leader.

Role of Palliative Care in Home Care

Many people want to spend their final moments at home in a familiar setting surrounded by the people and possessions that are most important to them. There are two types of palliative care services for people who want to receive care at home.

Home Care Visits

During the early stages of palliative care, you might only need assistance with mobility or domestic support. In those cases, it doesn’t make sense to move to a care home or a hospice. Instead, it makes sense to organise regular home care visits from a professionally trained healthcare assistant.

The healthcare assistant can ensure your house is clean and help you move around your home or attend appointments in the community. As your condition progresses you may find you need more regular visits to assist with getting up in the morning and going to bed in the evening or help with personal care.

Live-in Care

The alternative to regular home care visits is to organize a permanent live-in care assistant, who will stay in the home of the person needing care. One of the main benefits of a live-in care assistant is increased safety and security for the patient, which in turn, provides peace of mind for their family.

The care assistant can ensure the patient is always taking necessary precautions to stay safe, such as using assistive devices and taking their medications as intended. There’s also the added benefit that an extra person in the home will deter intruders. 

A live-in care assistant will also act as a permanent companion allowing the patient to engage in conversation and activities, reducing the likelihood of their mental and emotional health deteriorating.

They can also respond to unexpected events or emergencies, such as if the patient has a fall or needs to make an unexpected trip to the hospital.

If your loved one requires support during the night as well as during the day you might want to also consider a night care assistant to ensure the live-in care assistant gets sufficient sleep to work safely.

palliative care
Courtesy Unsplash

Alternatives to Receiving Palliative Care at Home

Palliative home care isn’t everyone’s preferred option. Some patients prefer to move out of their homes to a specialist residential setting.

There are three types of residential care:

These residential settings vary depending on your needs. For example, a hospice is best for people in the final months, weeks or days of their life, whereas, a nursing home is for people with a medical condition that requires regular support from a nurse.

Residential care is usually more expensive than home care but the main benefit is that you will have an interdisciplinary team of care professionals on hand at all times. 

Final Thoughts

Palliative care is a specialist type of care for people who are nearing the end of their life. It is delivered by an interdisciplinary team to improve the quality of life of patients.

Palliative home care is best suited for people who want to stay at home rather than move to a residential facility, such as a care home. Patients can choose between organizing regular home care visits or a permanent live-in care assistant.