Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Caring for someone at the end of life.

Caring for someone at the end of life.
beginning of content

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 therapy 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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2018

Back To Top

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Starting the conversation | Australian Government Department of Health

Starting the conversation about palliative care and end-of-life care.

Read more on Department of Health website

At the End of Life

Are you caring for a parent or an older family member who is at the end of life? Find information to help you understand more and plan in palliAGED.

Read more on palliAGED website

Information on end-of-life care for consumers | Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care

How should care be given at the end of life?

Read more on Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care website

Diabetes & Palliative Care

Diabetes and Palliative Care Diabetes needs to be managed across a lifespan including end of life care

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Dementia Australia | Planning: end-of-life

Making end-of-life decisions

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Advance Care Planning

NSW Health is committed to respecting an individual's values and wishes for clinically appropriate end of life care.

Read more on NSW Health website

Planning your palliative care | Australian Government Department of Health

It's important to think about what you want when it comes to preparing your end-of-life care. Find out how to plan your palliative care and how to find a a palliative care provider to suit your needs.

Read more on Department of Health website

Advance care directive | Australian Government Department of Health

An advance care directive is an important part of your end-of-life care. An advance care directive formalises your advance care plan. The directive can contain all your needs, values and preferences for your future care and details of a substitute decision-maker.

Read more on Department of Health website

How to get palliative care | Australian Government Department of Health

Palliative care is available for everyone and it is not difficult to access. A referral from your doctor, medical specialist or other health provider is often all you will need. To get the palliative and end-of-life care you need, it is a good idea to start planning now.

Read more on Department of Health website

Near the end

Many people who live in residential aged care can become very frail. Deterioration in their health can be slow. It may be barely noticeable in the short term. They may have been expected to die, only to recover more than once, despite their frailties. It can seem as if they are going to live forever. When death is expected, palliative care becomes the appropriate care choice. Not everyone knows what palliative care is. It may be difficult to see why it is now appropriate. Palliative care helps w

Read more on CareSearch website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo