Planning Ahead – a Primer on Palliative and End of Life Care

Much like putting off thinking about preparing wills, many people prefer not to talk about end of life.

However, once again, much like in the case of wills and estates, planning years or even decades in advance of the end of life will help you make sure your wishes are observed, and also reduces stress and anxiety on your family members.

Earlier in 2014, the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association (CHPCA), in collaboration with Harris Decima, released the results of a Canada-wide survey focusing on perceptions of palliative care in Canada.

Even as Canada’s population continues to age, the survey discovered that less than a third of Canadians are aware that provincial health systems offer palliative care. There is even some confusion about what palliative care is in Canada.

Simply put, in Canada palliative care is a special kind of health care for individuals and families who are living with a life-limiting illness that is usually at an advanced stage.

Palliative encompasses a “spectrum” of healthcare that meets not only physical needs, but also psychological, social, cultural, emotional and spiritual needs of each person and family.

Common questions answered during the palliative care planning process include:

  • What will I want or need at the end of life?
  • Will I suffer pain and need medication to manage my symptoms?
  • How can I let my family & friends know my wishes and preferences for end of life care?
  • What help is available to me?
  • Will I suffer from a chronic illness and feel like a burden to others?
  • What decisions will I have to make?

Palliative care also extends to assisting bereaved family members and caregivers; palliative care is truly a holistic approach to end of life.

And, with various initiatives to ensure our growing elderly population remains at home as long as possible in order to ensure high quality of life, palliative care often includes home care.

The challenge is that many people avoid discussing palliative care until the very end of life, typically during the final stages of an illness. As a result, end of life can become an unduly stressful time, both for the individual and for family alike.

Avoiding discussing palliative can also have financial implications – discussing end of life early on, before the onset of terminal illness, can help ensure there are sufficient financial resources for home care and home support.

Planning ahead can also ensure caregivers have enough time to apply for entitlements such as the Canadian Compassionate Care Benefit, which pays benefits to people who have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill.

Planning your end of life years or even decades in advance has financial and emotional benefits. This website provides a useful introduction to advance care planning.

In a companion blog post, Classic LifeCare’s Andrea Warren discusses palliative care and the need to end well on your own terms.