Palliative care is an added layer of support to help you and your loved ones live with a life-limiting illness.
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With palliative care, you can get physical, emotional, and spiritual support. You can get help to relieve pain, fatigue, anxiety, shortness of breath, nausea and depression. This helps you learn what to expect from your illness and decide on a treatment plan. Palliative care also supports your family/whānau. Sometimes your doctor can provide palliative support. Other times a trained palliative care team works with you and your doctor to provide specialist care and the services you need.
Palliative care can help you at any stage of a life-limiting illness. Examples include congestive heart failure, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Doctors often wait too long or they simply don’t refer patients for added palliative care support. Many patients who are seriously ill miss out on the benefits of palliative care.
Palliative care improves your quality of life and may help you live longer. In a study of people with advanced cancer, those who got palliative care early reported better control of pain and other symptoms. People who got palliative care had a better quality of life and less depression. They also lived longer and spent less time in the hospital than those receiving only standard treatments.
Studies suggest that there are similar benefits for people with other life-limiting illnesses.
Palliative care is not only “end-of-life” care or hospice. Palliative care can be useful no matter how long you are expected to live. You don’t have to give up other treatments for your illness.
Start palliative care early for best results. Palliative care is most helpful if you start it early during a life-limiting illness. You should request it, no need to wait for your doctor to bring it up. It will affect your quality of care and treatment decisions.
Plan ahead! Don’t wait until you are sick to start advance care planning conversations. Advance care planning helps you think about, talk about and document wishes for health care in the event that you become incapable of consenting to or refusing medical treatments or other care.
Choose a loved one, family/whānau member or friend to communicate your wishes for you, should you become too unwell to make decisions for yourself. Talking to that person as well as your doctor and the rest of your family/whānau will help ensure your wishes are known and will help your loved ones make treatment decisions on your behalf.
Put your plans in writing.
Some people and their doctors put off talking about their wishes and values for health care. This puts you at risk of being too ill to guide your doctors and may increase the uncertainty and burden that your loved ones feel.
It’s OK to ask questions
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.
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Developed by Choosing Wisely New Zealand, 2018. Adapted from Choosing Wisely Canada (2014), Palliative care, and the New Zealand Ministry of Health (2014), About palliative care. Choosing Wisely does not assume any responsibility or liability arising from any error or omission or from the use of any information in these resources.
This article is part of our content on Choosing Wisely, a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.