End of life care means care for those who are approaching the end of their life, including their family and friends. It often means the treatment of symptoms and can extend to counselling and spiritual guidance.
End of life careNothing can erase the pain of facing the loss of someone you love, but end of life care can help support the whole family and allow your loved one to pass on in comfort and dignity. The term end of life care can seem negative and final, however it’s important to realise that receiving this kind of care doesn’t mean that death is imminent or that the medical teams have given up on your loved one. At this challenging time, accessing care can be a very positive step. There will be support to manage symptoms and maintain comfort and wellbeing, which will maximise joy and fulfilment.
What does end of life care mean?End of life care is the support and treatment offered to people who are likely to pass on within the next 12 months. This can include people who are facing death within a few days or hours, those who have advanced incurable diseases and those whose age, frailty and medical conditions mean they are expected to die within a year. When you’re reeling from learning that your loved one’s condition is incurable, seeking end of life care can seem like a negative step. But accessing support can make a real difference to quality of life both for the individual affected and for those who love them. The National Council for Palliative Care says that end of life care:
Helps all those with advanced, progressive, incurable illness to live as well as possible until they die. It enables the supportive and palliative care needs of both patient and family to be identified and met throughout the last phase of life and into bereavement. It includes management of pain and other symptoms and provision of psychological, social, spiritual and practical support.From that definition, it’s clear that end of life care involves careful control of pain and other symptoms, but that it also extends far beyond this. It is a uniquely frightening and stressful time and the whole family should be supported practically, socially and psychologically. This can mean assistance with matters like feeding, bathing and toileting, help to come to terms with the diagnosis and the space to make the most of the time you have left. When the time comes, your loved one should be allowed to die in peace in the place of their choice.
Palliative carePalliative care is a key component of end of life care. It is care that can alleviate a problem without treating the underlying cause. Palliative care can ease the distress and discomfort of people with incurable cancers, progressive neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and advanced dementia. It can soothe symptoms like nausea, constipation, sleeplessness and pain allowing your loved one to rest or enjoy activities with the family.
Planning end-of-life carePlanning ahead is important to ensure that your loved one gets the care that best meets their needs. It’s vital to consider practical and financial matters like Power of Attorney and wills and to think about the sort of support they would prefer towards the end of life. They don’t have to formalise these opinions, but an advanced care plan can ensure that the healthcare team fully understand their wishes, it can also help your loved one process their thoughts and feelings. Remember, the plan is written on paper not set in stone, they can edit it whenever and however they need. It’s worth considering these questions:
- Where you would they like to receive care?
- Are there any treatments that they would prefer not to have?
- Would they like resuscitation if their breathing stops or if they suffer a cardiac arrest?