- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Caring for someone nearing the end of life
- Providing practical support
Providing practical support
Many people worry about how they’ll manage the day-to-day tasks of caring for someone, and providing them with practical support. To make it easier and safer to care for the person at home, you may need to modify the environment (e.g. handrails in the shower) or buy or rent equipment (e.g. shower and toilet chairs, bedpans, hospital bed).
Some carers prefer to provide practical support themselves and just need some guidance from a health professional. Other carers find providing personal care awkward or overwhelming and prefer to have it given by someone else. The palliative care team can help reduce your stress and free you up to spend time with the person you’re caring for in a way that is comfortable for you.
You may feel unable to care for someone at home and prefer they receive specialist care in a residential facility. Even if they are in a hospice or aged care facility, you can help provide personal care such as helping with feeding, bathing and toileting.
Practical ways to help
There are many things that family and friends can do to help support someone at the end of life.
Prepare mealsPreparing meals for someone who is sick can become challenging as their needs and illness change. Try cooking simple, small meals. You may have to mash food so it’s easier to swallow – the palliative care team will have a dietitian who can advise you on how to prepare food. As the disease progresses, the person may lose their appetite and not be able to eat or drink. You don’t need to force them to eat or drink. If the person cannot drink, chips of ice can help to moisten the mouth.
Help with bathing and toiletingIf the person you are caring for can’t move around easily, you may have to give them a sponge bathe or wash their hair over a basin. You may have to help the person get on and off the toilet or commode, help them use urine bottles or bedpans if they can’t get out of bed, and sometimes help them to wipe themselves. An occupational therapist can help you choose suitable equipment and teach you how to lift correctly.
Sort out the paperworkFor many people who are dying, getting their affairs in order can help them feel like they’ve given closure to their life. You can help gather important documents, discuss the person’s choices for their future health care, and arrange legal advice if needed.
Record social media detailsPeople often have more of a social media presence than they realise. You can help the person work out which social media accounts they have and what they want to happen to these accounts after they die, and then help compile a list of passwords and instructions.
Do odd jobs and run errandsFriends can help with walking the dog, mowing the lawn, picking up the kids, or doing the shopping or laundry – anything that eases the workload of the main carer.
Manage medicinesIf you need to give medicines and feel overwhelmed, ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurses for suggestions. A pharmacist can put your tablets and capsules into a blister pack (e.g. Webster-pak), which separates them into the days and times you need to take them. Learn some tips for managing medicines.
Help with getting in and out of bedIt’s common for a dying person to spend more time in bed. You may need to help them get in and out of bed, roll them over regularly so they don’t get bedsores, or lift them to change the sheets. You can use equipment to help with lifting. Many people create space in the living room for the bed, particularly if bedrooms are located upstairs. The palliative care team can help you provide this care and arrange equipment such as a hospital bed.
Dr Megan Ritchie, Staff Specialist Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Service, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Rosemary Cavanough, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Metro South Palliative Care Service, QLD; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC; Rowena Robinson, Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia, ACT; Helena Rodi, Program Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC.
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