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What Is Palliative Care?

March 21st, 2023

Palliative care is a specific type of nursing care that’s offered to people with a terminal or life-limiting illness. This may be terminal cancer, or a degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease that’s in a late stage. 

If an elderly loved one has been offered palliative care, it’s natural to wonder exactly what this will involve and what the stages of palliative care are. You may be wondering what to expect over the next few weeks or months, and how palliative care differs from end-of-life care. Read on to discover all of this, as well as how our nursing homes can support you and your family at this time.

What Is Palliative Care Exactly?

elderly woman being pushed in a wheelchair as part of palliative care

Palliative care is the term used to describe care for individuals who’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It can include help with the symptoms of the illness, such as pain, breathlessness, or loss of mobility, as well as providing emotional and spiritual support for the individual and their family. 

Palliative care is considered to be a whole-person approach and focuses on improving quality of life by reducing any distress and discomfort as much as possible. It’s a form of end-of-life care, and the stages of palliative care may be carried out in a hospital, hospice, nursing home setting, or in the individual’s own home. 

What To Expect From Palliative Care

Palliative care may begin as soon as an individual is given a terminal diagnosis. In some cases, it can last for several years and may transition into end-of-life care as the illness progresses. 

Palliative care may be offered to patients of any age with any terminal illness; for example dementia, cancer, heart failure, or degenerative illnesses like Parkinson’s disease. 

The specific treatment that takes place will vary according to the symptoms the individual experiences, but the overall focus will always be on supporting an individual’s health and wellbeing, and on supporting their family too. There are typically 5 stages of palliative care, which we’ll go into more detail on below.

5 Stages Of Palliative Care

Any course of palliative care treatment will begin with a care plan, and will go on to cover emotional support, managing medication, and more. Read on to learn more about the 5 stages of palliative care.

senior man receiving palliative care


The first stage of palliative care is to assess a patient’s individual needs and produce a detailed care plan that ensures everything is taken care of depending on their specific situation. Find out more about what a care plan is.

2. Emotional Support

All stages of palliative care are incredibly important, but managing the emotional wellbeing of patients and their loved ones is one that plays a crucial role. The emotions that can come about when dealing with a terminal illness diagnosis can be heart-wrenching and challenging for everyone, which is why emotional support is considered a priority in the 5 stages of palliative care.

The emotional support offered can involve spiritual support too, and aims to help you plan for what’s to come next.

3. Managing Treatment 

The third stage of palliative care covers effectively managing any pain or discomfort caused by the illness. The palliative care team will organise medication, specialist equipment, and any hygiene procedures. During this stage, and indeed all stages of palliative care, the team will aim to keep patients as active and as comfortable as possible.

4. Practical Care

Further into a palliative care plan, a patient will move towards end-of-life care. This involves making practical arrangements, such as writing or making a change to a will, or funeral planning, with the patient and their next of kin at the centre of all of these decisions. While this can be one of the harder stages of palliative care, it can also mean a patient gets to be involved in the decision making process, which some people find helpful and cathartic.

5. Family And Friends Support

Stage five exists to help family and friends navigate the grief and bereavement process. Every person will deal with this differently and a palliative care plan will accommodate this, whether the palliative care itself takes place over a few weeks or a year-long period.

The 5 stages of palliative care ensure that every aspect of treatment is taken care of and that care professionals know what patients need both now and in the future.

What Is Palliative Care At Home Like?

Delivering palliative care at home will be the right option for some families, with professional carers and nurses coming into the home to administer care in a familiar environment. This may be comforting for the individual receiving the care, but it may take a toll on the rest of the family, and affect the memories attached to the space.

Some families prefer to opt for a hospice or nursing home setting instead, perhaps because it’s not practical for palliative care to be carried out in their home, or because they feel more comfortable (clinically and/or emotionally) with moving their loved one to a dedicated setting. 

If you do decide to opt for palliative care at home, your loved one will be looked after by experienced and compassionate professionals who can provide round-the-clock care and relief. Healthcare professionals will have experience in the stages of palliative care and so can be better prepared and able to offer the level of care required. Bear in mind that palliative care is not a one-size-fits-all solution and every patient will require something different. If palliative care is being delivered over a long-term period, you might also want to consider the option of respite care, which is offered at New Care homes.

senior women and the 5 stages of palliative care

Choosing A Care Home For Palliative Care

The purpose of palliative care is to make life as comfortable and as close to normal as possible for an individual and their loved ones. If the palliative care is being delivered in a care home setting, this may mean getting the individual involved in care home activities as much as possible, with these being adapted to their needs.

What’s more, choosing a care home that offers nursing care for palliative care will mean you have a dedicated care team and nurses who will:

  • Check and record vital signs 
  • Administer medication 
  • Take care of hygiene needs
  • Listen to, comfort, and counsel patients 
  • Keep loved ones informed 
  • Manage pain relief 
  • Make patients comfortable

This list is a small summary of what a palliative care nurse will do, and what you can expect from a care home. There is more helpful advice in our guide to choosing a care home.

If you’re considering one of our New Care homes to deliver nursing or palliative care for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have or to find out more.