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Ensuring dignity and comfort in the late stages of life: the role of palliative care in aged care

Written by Violet Platt, CEO of Palliative Care Victoria

  • 25 March 2024
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Ensuring dignity and comfort in the late stages of life: the role of palliative care in aged care

As our loved ones age, safeguarding their dignity and comfort goes hand in hand with optimising their quality of life. This includes addressing their physical, emotional, spiritual, and psycho-social needs as their health changes over time or when they require end-of-life care. Palliative care is person- and family-centered care that helps a person live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting condition. A palliative approach in the aged care home ensures older people in their care are provided comfort, dignity and respect in the final years of their life.

Understanding the true sense of Palliative Care

There are many misconceptions about palliative care, particularly in the aged care setting. Palliative care is not about ceasing all treatment and giving up hope; it's about shifting the focus from providing ongoing treatments that may be burdensome or distressing to a person when their health is irreversibly declining and providing relief from symptoms while prioritising their overall wellbeing. 

In aged care, where individuals may be dealing with multiple chronic conditions, palliative care becomes particularly relevant. It encompasses pain management and symptom control, emotional and spiritual support, as well as assistance with daily activities, all tailored to meet the specific needs and wishes of each individual. Where this holistic approach to care is in place in an aged care home, it ensures that the elderly, and their families, receive compassionate and personalised support as they navigate the late stages of their lives with dignity and grace.

For individuals grappling with complex health issues and heightened vulnerability, palliative care assumes paramount importance, providing a framework through which they can navigate the challenges of illness while maintaining their sense of agency and dignity.

Being prepared and making informed decisions: the "Dignified and Respectful Decisions" Project

Palliative Care Victoria's "Dignified and Respectful Decisions (DARD)” project illustrates the importance of integrating palliative care principles into aged care settings. The initiative underscores the importance for family decision makers to be more informed and work collaboratively with health professionals when required to make decision on behalf of their loved ones – ensuring their autonomy, values, and preferences are respected.

Through education, the project equips family decision-makers with the tools and resources they need to advocate for their loved ones and recognise how they can work collaboratively with their healthcare and aged care teams while respecting their family members individual values and wishes. It promotes a multidisciplinary approach wherein physicians, nurses, social workers, and other caregivers work together with families to develop a comprehensive plan of care for older Australians.

As we reflect on the transformative power of having end-of-life conversations, projects like ‘Dignified and Respectful Decisions' play a crucial role in promoting a culture of compassionate and person-centered care within aged care facilities. I invite you to visit the website (www.pallcarevic.asn.au/dard) and browse through the assets we have created to support older Australians to receive the respect, dignity and comfort they deserve in the final stages of their lives.

 

Authors:

Violet Platt, CEO of Palliative Care Victoria 

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