30 Aug 2018

Making Palliative Care Incredible

Making Palliative Care Incredible

Nursing and care homes tend to be the places where many older people spend the last parts of their lives, which is why every care facility should be able to provide the highest quality of palliative care. Often, when it comes to end-of-life care, hospices are used, and while these offer a fantastic level of care, it’s nice for care environments to also be able to offer a good quality of care for their residents.

In the South West, there are some incredible hospices, including St. Margret’s hospice in Somerset, Hospicecare in Exeter, South West Children’s Hospice, and St. Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth, that offer amazing end of life care. Care facilities can learn a lot from these places and the quality of palliative care that they offer.

Many hospices turn end-of-life care into something amazing, and that’s what every care facility should aim to do for their residents and their families. The question is, what does it take to provide incredible palliative care?

What is end-of-life care?

End-of-life care (or EoLC) refers to health care, not only of a person in the final hours or days of their lives, but more broadly care of all those with a terminal condition that has become advanced, progressive, and incurable. End-of-life care is about providing high-quality care to the person and their nearest and dearest, and an essential part of that is combining medical care with comfort care.

Comfort care is a key part of palliative care; it is the care that helps to soothe a calm and person who is nearing the end of their life. The aim is to help relieve suffering as far as possible and to improve their quality of life. As a carer, knowing how to lessen someone’s suffering is most probably second nature to you, but that doesn’t mean that you fully understand the ins and outs of providing the most amazing palliative care for people who are dying.

Every care facility should take end-of-life care seriously, with each team member knowing how to provide comfort, what they should say, and what they should do. The aim of palliative care is to make dying easier - it’s to ensure that the person you are caring for has a peaceful death and treatment and care that is consistent with their wishes. What it’s vital to realise is that a peaceful death might mean something different to you than what it means to someone else.

While one patient might want to be told when death is near, so that they can say their goodbyes, another person might want to simply go when the time comes, without knowing it’s about to happen. Some people want to die without any medication, while others want to receive treatment until the very end. Some people want to be with all of their friends and family, while others want to be alone. Some people want to be at home while others want to be in a professional care environment. 

What does end-of-life care involve?

People who are dying require four types of care, these are physical comfort, mental and emotional care, practical care, and spiritual care. Of course, it’s not just the person who is dying who requires support but also their family and friends too. As a carer, it’s your job to ensure that this support is provided.

Physical comfort

There are lots of ways that you can make a person who is dying more comfortable - how you go about this depends on what’s causing their discomfort. Discomfort and pain can come from a variety of sources - for most things there is something that can be done. The most common reasons a person who is dying is uncomfortable is because of pain, problems breathing, skin irritation, temperature sensitivity, and digestive problems.

Of course, pain is the most common cause of discomfort, which is why knowing how to manage it is so important. Care for someone who is dying and is in pain is a somewhat controversial topic as different experts have different opinions, for instance, many believe that when it comes to caring for someone who is dying, there’s no need to worry about the long-term problems that certain pain-relievers cause, such as drug dependence.

Emotional care

A key part of end-of-life care is helping to manage the dying person’s mental health and emotional distress. When someone is alert near the end of life, they understandably often feel anxious and depressed. That’s why treating emotional pain is so important, and why encouraging conversations about this is essential. Counselling can often be a key part of the emotional side of end-of-life care, both for the patient and their family.

Often, a person who is dying may feel anxious or scared about what is coming next, what will happen once they leave this world. They might also be worried about the friends and family that they are leaving behind and may feel further concerned when they see family and friends being upset and anxious themselves.

Experts say that comforting a dying person is about making them as comfortable and content as possible. Physical contact can be a fantastic way to calm and soothe them, as can play calming, gentle music. However, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to this kind of care, it should be worked out on a person-by-person basis.

Spiritual issues

When someone comes to the end of their life, they may also have spiritual needs that should be taken as seriously as their physical concerns. It’s essential that a person’s spiritual needs are taken as seriously as their physical ones. Visits from a spiritual leader may help to calm and soothe the person and should be provided if requested.

Many people find solace in their faith, so it’s essential that they are able to practice their faith in whatever way makes them feel most calm and less anxious. Prayer, talking with someone from their religious community, or reading religious texts might help to calm the person, playing religious music may also help.

Practical care

When providing end-of-life care, there are many practical care tasks that need to be performed, both to support the person who is dying and their loved ones. For someone who is dying, everyday tasks can be a source of serious worry and concern and can be overwhelming for family and friends.

End-of-life care should be about making life as easy for possible as the person who is dying and their nearest and dearest. Whether that means helping them to deal with errands, keeping note of phone messages, or collecting medication, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the right practical care and support is offered.

Palliative care may not be the easiest of care to provide, due to the emotional toll that it can have, but it’s one of the most important aspects of care that any caregiver can offer, and so it’s essential that you and your team know how to provide this kind of care properly.

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