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Relatives gathered around the bedside of an elderly woman

Planning for end of life

For someone nearing the end of their life, aged care services may be able to provide additional help and support. This may be through therapies or other services to provide physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual support to the person and those around them.

Help staying at home

Many people feel more comfortable spending their last days at home. General care services are available to assist with care at home.

Help in aged care homes

Aged care homes will help people who are nearing the end of their life feel as comfortable and supported as possible.

Support for families and carers

If you're the carer of someone nearing the end of their life, there is emotional support, counselling or help caring for the person available to you. If you would like more information or suggestions from other carers, you can read more about caring for someone at end of life.

Palliative care

The aim of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for a person with a life-limiting illness and their families. 

Some of the common illnesses of people requiring palliative care include: cancer, HIV/AIDS, motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and end-stage dementia.

Doctors, aged care providers and community nurses can help access palliative care if required.

Care plans

It's a good idea to have a care plan. The people who provide aged care may be able to help develop a care plan to best support your care needs. A good care plan may:

  • show how pain and other symptoms might be managed
  • show how cultural, emotional and spiritual support can be provided
  • help family members make decisions about care options
  • help those involved know what to expect
  • show how support to families and carers through the bereavement process could be provided.

Advance care planning

Advance care planning lets everyone involved in the care process know the wishes of the person approaching the end of their life in regards to their health and medical care. It can make sure that the person's wishes about future care are taken into consideration. It can also help with difficult last-minute decisions about treatment when a person may no longer be able to have their say.

A person nearing the end of their life may also choose to give someone they trust an enduring power of attorney or enduring guardianship (the requirements for these vary from state to state) to make medical treatment and other decisions if they are no longer able to do so. However, they must make an enduring power of attorney or enduring guardianship while they are still fully able to understand the action they are taking.

Medicines used in end of life care

Affordable access to medicines is an important part of end of life care. Doctors, aged care or palliative care providers will ensure the appropriate medicines are prescribed. Many medicines used in end of life care are available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).  

NPS MedicineWise also provides information about the use of medicines. Alternatively, the NPS Medicines Line (on 1300 633 424) is available to give specific information about medicines, doses, interactions and side effects. 

What costs are involved?

Depending on the circumstances, costs involved with end of life care could include:

  • medicines – may be available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
  • fees for private hospital patients – usually covered by private health insurance if you have insurance. Ask your health insurance fund.
  • equipment to use at home – you may have to pay to use equipment such as hospital beds, wheelchairs or commodes at home.
  • medical supplies – you may be required to pay for these.
  • palliative care services – most are free through Medicare. You can check with Palliative Care Australia’s National Palliative Care Service Directory to find a palliative care service in your local area.
  • costs for aged care services provided in your home or an aged care home.

Carers may be able to get some medicines or supplies through their hospital, but this will vary between each state and territory.

Need financial advice?

The Department of Human Services can help with financial information or payments for carers through the following services:

  • social workers can help you during difficult times by providing confidential counselling, support and information.
  • the Financial Information Service is a free, confidential service. It helps people make informed decisions about investment and financial issues for their current and future needs.
  • authorising a person or organisation to be your nominee or make Department of Human Services payments and service enquiries on your behalf
  • payments to assist when caring for someone who has a life-limiting illness, including Carer Payment, Carer Allowance and a Bereavement Payment.
  • financial support following the death of a partner such as the Bereavement Allowance, Bereavement Payment or Widow Allowance.

Useful resources

Many organisations and programs around Australia provide support for people who are in their final stages of life – whether as a patient, a carer, a family member or a friend.

A few of these organisations are listed below. 

Organisation or resource

What they do

Contact

Advance Care Planning Australia (Respecting Patient Choices)

This website provides information on advance care directives. It also helps individuals choose their end of life care and to inform their families, carers and health professionals of the choices that they have made.

03 9496 5660

 

Start2talk (Dementia Australia)

This website will help you to plan ahead for your future. Planning ahead is thinking about if you have a sudden accident, become very ill or develop a condition such as dementia that affects your memory and your planning ability. 

 

1800 100 500

Carers Australia

The peak national body representing Australia's carers. They provide information, support, education, training and counselling.

1800 242 636

Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres

These centres, located across Australia, provide a link to a wide range of community, aged care and support services that are available locally and nationally.

1800 052 222

Volunteers Australia

Volunteers Australia may be able to connect you with local volunteers who can help and provide friendly support.

 

Department of Human Services

Provides financial information that can advise on wills, enduring powers of attorney, funeral plans, bonds and how to administer a deceased estate.
Payments may also be available when caring for someone who has a life-limiting illness, including Carer Payment, Carer Allowance and a Bereavement Payment.

13 23 00

13 27 17

Department of Veterans' Affairs 

Veterans may be able to receive support services particularly targeted to their end of life needs through various Department programs.

13 32 54

Who else may be able to help?

There are a number of people who may support someone approaching the end of their life and help them to feel as comfortable as possible.

Such people might include:

  • doctors, including general practitioners, palliative care specialists and other specialist physicians
  • nurses, including general and specialised nurses in the community, hospitals, palliative care units and aged care homes
  • allied health professionals, including social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, pharmacists, dietitians and speech pathologists
  • support workers, such as assistants in nursing, personal care attendants and diversional therapists
  • therapists skilled in music, massage, aromatherapy or colour
  • bereavement counsellors
  • spiritual advisers from different pastoral, spiritual and cultural backgrounds
  • workers who have language skills and knowledge of various cultures
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health workers
  • volunteers.

Family members are also an important part of the support team, particularly if a person has chosen to receive end of life care in their own home.

Many people find that administrators or business managers can also provide essential support to the end of life care team. Experts in financial planning and legal issues can also provide support.

Extra assistance

Extra assistance is available if you are hearing and speech impaired, or where translating services are required.

Last reviewed: 30 June, 2015.