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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 issues: nursing, treatments and procedures

3-minute read

The person you're looking after may have to undergo one or more types of treatment during the course of their illness.

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

The person you're looking after (the patient) may not always be well enough to make their views known to doctors, hospitals, nurses and other health professionals. Carers are often the go-between who talks to both health professionals and the patient. 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.

There is a vast array of treatments that the patient may need, 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 on top of their standard treatments.


Most surgery requires a stay in hospital and the choice of hospital will depend on where the surgeon you have been referred to operates.

Carers are often the go-between who talks to both health professionals and the patient.

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 cancers. It's also used to reduce pain and relieve symptoms when a cure is not possible.

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

Radiotherapy affects patients 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 a skin complaint 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.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells such as leukaemia and lymphoma. 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 you are 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

Complementary and physical therapies are used by some people as they find they help relieve pain and other symptoms, or for their emotional wellbeing.

These are 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.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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