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Caring for someone at the end of life.

Caring for someone at the end of life.
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End-of-life nursing, treatments and procedures

3-minute read

Caring for someone who is nearing the end of their life can sometimes feel overwhelming. The person you're looking after may need one or more types of treatment during the later stages of their illness.

Carers will often need to help the person they are looking after prepare for treatment, as well as cope with the side effects.

The person you're looking after may not always be well enough to make their views known to doctors, hospitals, nurses and other health professionals. Carers are often the bridge between health professionals and the person receiving treatment. Make sure you have the written consent of the person you are caring for to speak to their medical team. It is a good idea to talk to the medical team to find out the best way to do this.

The person you’re looking after may need a wide range of treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. They may need several of these at the same time, or one after the other. Some people may also want to have complementary and physical therapies as well their standard treatments.


Most surgery requires a stay in hospital and the choice of hospital will depend on where the surgeon operates.

Some patients may be allowed to return home on the same day after their operation. Most surgery is planned following the diagnosis of a health condition, but sometimes will be done unexpectedly as a life-saving measure. Everybody responds differently during diagnosis, and before surgery and after surgery. The physical and emotional recovery from surgery may take a long time.


Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays and other radiation to treat disease. It's a common treatment for cancer. It's also used to reduce pain and relieve symptoms when a cure is not possible.

Sometimes a course of radiotherapy is given daily over a period of weeks and sometimes it may be given as a single dose. The person may need to stay in hospital for radiotherapy treatment or go to hospital and return home that day.

Radiotherapy affects people in different ways. The person you're looking after may feel very tired, so try to help them to get more rest than usual. They may also develop tender skin with soreness around the area being treated. Their doctor and medical team will advise you on the best way to ease their discomfort.

Other ways you can help the patient include encouraging them to:

  • eat a healthy diet with plenty of fluids
  • avoid direct sunlight on the treated area
  • wear loose fitting clothes
  • stop smoking (if they are still a smoker)


Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. There are many types of chemotherapy drugs, which can be given separately or combined as injections, creams and tablets.

Chemotherapy affects people in different ways. The person you're looking after may:

  • feel very tired
  • lose all or some of their hair
  • feel nauseous, have diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • have nosebleeds or bruise easily
  • lose their appetite
  • develop mouth sores
  • develop changes in their skin and nail colour

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen is sometimes used in end-of-life care. It can be helpful, but it is not always needed. If the person is not breathless or anxious, it is not recommended by the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine and the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine.

For more information, speak to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Complementary and physical therapies

Some people use complementary therapies and physical therapies to help relieve pain and other symptoms, or to support their emotional wellbeing.

These therapies can be used on their own or combined with other complementary therapies. Complementary therapies include relaxation, meditation, art therapy and reiki.

Physical therapies include massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, reflexology, shiatsu, yoga and tai chi.

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Last reviewed: October 2018

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