Palliative care: Overview

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About palliative care

Palliative care is a holistic approach that treats a person with serious illness of any age, and in any setting. It involves a range of care providers and includes the person's unpaid caregivers.

If you have a serious illness, palliative care can:

  • help improve your quality of life
  • reduce or relieve your symptoms
  • help you make important decisions
  • provide grief support to you, your friends and your family (or chosen family)
  • support you and your caregivers throughout your illness, from the time of diagnosis

This approach to care can involve:

  • management of symptoms such as:
    • pain
    • nausea
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • difficulty breathing
  • emotional, psychological, social and spiritual support
  • grief support
  • caregiver support

These services aim to make you and your caregivers feel as comfortable as possible, even while going through treatments intended to cure your illness. They can include personalized treatment plans that meet your needs and the needs of those who are caring for you.

Available services

Palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings, such as:

  • at home
  • hospitals
  • long-term care facilities
  • hospices (a home for people living with serious illness)

Many people prefer to receive care at home as it can be more comfortable for them with the right supports.

The majority of people living with serious illness can have high quality palliative care provided directly by:

  • primary health care providers, such as:
    • family doctors
    • nurses and nurse practitioners
  • volunteers
  • caregivers
  • social workers
  • personal support workers
  • members of the community

Primary health care providers can help provide palliative care for people with serious illness that:

  • helps improve their quality of life
  • aligns with their values and wishes

This can include helping to:

  • understand their illness better
  • manage symptoms
  • connect with and help coordinate supports and services
  • plan ahead for the future

If you need more specialized services, primary health care providers can refer you to other providers and specialists.

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Grief support

If you live with a serious illness, you may experience grief related to:

  • loss of health, independence and control
  • changing roles within your family (or chosen family), social and work circles

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It's a normal response to loss, and your experience of grief will be unique.

If you're a family member, friend or caregiver, you may experience grief as you try to prepare for a future loss. You may also experience grief as you witness changes in the health of the person with serious illness.

Grief is a lifelong process of adjusting to the realities of loss, while re-learning how to find joy and meaning in life, even without the people we've lost.

Grief support services can help you during different stages of an illness and after a loss. The support you receive will depend on your circumstances and the approach that works best for you.

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