What is palliative care?

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is person and family-centred care provided for a person with an active, progressive, advanced disease, who has little or no prospect of cure and who is expected to die, and for whom the primary goal is to optimise the quality of life.

Palliative care helps people live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting or terminal illness.

Palliative care identifies and treats symptoms which may be physical, emotional, spiritual or social. Because palliative care is based on individual needs, the services offered will differ but may include:

  • Relief of pain and other symptoms e.g. vomiting, shortness of breath
  • Equipment needed to aid care at home
  • Assistance for families to come together to talk about sensitive issues
  • Planning for future medical treatment decisions and goals of care
  • Links to other services such as home help and financial support
  • Support for people to meet cultural obligations
  • Support for emotional, social and spiritual concerns
  • Counselling and grief support
  • Referrals to respite care services

Palliative care is a family-centred model of care, meaning that family and carers can receive practical and emotional support.

Early referral to palliative care can often prolong life and certainly supports a better quality of life.

End-of-life care is a specific phase of the palliative care journey.  Generally, end-of-life-care is the last few weeks of life in which a patient is rapidly approaching death. The needs of the patient and their carers are higher at this time. This phase of palliative care is recognised as one in which increased services and support are essential to ensure quality, coordinated care. This takes into account the terminal phase or when the patient is recognised as imminently dying, death and then extends to bereavement care for loved ones.

Download the 'What is Palliative Care?" brochure:

What is palliative care? DL Brochure [PDF]

Who is palliative care for?

Palliative care is for people of any age who have been told that they have a serious illness that cannot be cured. Palliative care assists people with illnesses such as cancer, motor neurone disease and end-stage kidney or lung disease to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

For some people, palliative care may be beneficial from the time of diagnosis with a serious life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be given alongside treatments given by other doctors.

Who is in the palliative care team?

Palliative care may be provided by a wide range of people, this may include your GP, aged care worker, cardiologist and any other health care professional, as well as family and other carers.  They are supported by specialist palliative care services if symptoms become difficult to manage.

Where is palliative care provided?

Where possible, palliative care can be provided where the person and their family wants, this may include:

  • At home
  • In hospital
  • In a hospice
  • In a residential aged care facility

Many people indicate a preference to die at home and making this possible often depends on several factors, including:

  • Nature of the illness and amount of care the person needs
  • How much support is available from the person’s family and community
  • If the person has someone at home who can provide physical care and support for them

How do I get palliative care?

For help and information ask your:

  • Doctor
  • Aboriginal Health Worker
  • Hospital Liaison Officer
  • Nurse

Multilingual Resources

Multilingual fact sheet and resources in languages other than English

Busting Palliative Care Myths

There are many myths associated with palliative care. We have created a series of videos with palliative care experts to bust some of these myths, create awareness and empower people to live as well as possible for as long as possible.

Where can I find more information?

For more information contact the palliative care peak body in your state.

There are a lot of common misconceptions about palliative care. Answers to some of the more frequently asked questions can be found in our FAQs here.