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Palliative care

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Palliative care aims to give the best possible quality of life to someone living with a life-limiting or terminal illness.
  • Palliative care is different for everyone but may include home help, treatment to relieve pain and emotional support.
  • Palliative care may be provided in a healthcare setting, such as a clinic or hospital, or in your own home.
  • You can receive palliative care alongside active treatment of your disease.
  • If you or someone you care for has a life-limiting illness, ask your doctor about the options for accessing palliative care.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care aims to give the best possible quality of life to someone living with a life-limiting or terminal illness. It helps people live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible.

Life-limiting illnesses include:

Choosing to receive palliative care does not mean the end of all treatment. It means making choices about which treatments are important, and which are not.

Palliative care is different for everyone, depending on what they need. It may include:

  • treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms
  • aids to help someone at home
  • help with daily activities such as washing, dressing and eating
  • links and referrals to services such as home help, financial support and respite care
  • cultural support
  • emotional, social and spiritual support
  • counselling and grief support

It can also include practical and emotional support for families and carers.

Palliative care can be provided by a range of people, including:

Palliative care is usually provided in close cooperation with family and friends.

What is the difference between palliative care and end of life care?

End of life care is care given during the last few weeks of life. Palliative care can be helpful at any stage of an illness. Some people receive palliative care for years.

Accepting palliative care does not mean you are giving up hope. Many people receive palliative care at the same time as active treatment. However, people with life-limiting illnesses may find that they gradually change their focus to concentrating on the things that are most important to them, such as feeling comfortable and having meaningful relationships.

Who is palliative care suitable for?

Palliative care can be offered to people of any age, including children. It can help anyone who has a serious illness that cannot be cured.

Where can I find palliative care?

You can receive palliative care in almost all places where health care is provided, such as:

  • hospitals
  • at your GP’s clinic
  • specialist centres, such as hospices and aged care facilities
  • in your own home

Your doctor, community health centre or local health department can provide information on palliative care and other relevant care services.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What are my palliative care choices?

It is important to understand what palliative care can offer and the range of services available. This will allow you to make better decisions about what kind of care is most suitable for you, where to have it and when to make a change.

Even if you are having active treatment for your health condition, you can still benefit from palliative care. It is a good idea to discuss your options with your doctor.

If you have advanced disease, it is a good idea to discuss your expectations, wishes, values and end of life planning with your doctor and loved ones. This can help your family, friends and doctors know what you want if you’re ever unable to express your wishes.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Are you a carer or helping someone out?

Carers are everyday people who provide unpaid and ongoing care and support to someone they know. You may be caring for someone who has a disability, mental illness, drug or alcohol dependency, chronic condition, terminal illness or who is frail.

Support for carers

Find practical information and useful resources for carers on Carer Gateway. You can also learn more about carers' support and services in your state or territory through Carers Australia.

Find other resources for carers at the CarerHelp website.

Resources and support

  • For more information about your palliative care options, speak to your doctor or visit the Palliative Care Australia
  • There are a range of national resources and state resources for people receiving palliative care, and their carers. These government and non-government services relate to medical, financial and psychosocial support.
  • You can also visit the PalliAGED website for information on palliative care and end of life care and services for older Australians.

Other languages

Do you prefer to read languages other than English? Visit the CareSearch website for links to palliative care and end of life information in different community languages.

Disease-specific resources

The CareSearch website has links to Information from disease-specific organisations.

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

Last reviewed: June 2023

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What does palliative care cost? | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

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Making use of services - CarerHelp Knowledge

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