Providing practical support

Many people worry about how they’ll manage with the day-to-day tasks of looking after someone. These might include showering, toileting and getting the person safely in and out of bed. You may find providing personal care awkward or embarrassing, especially at first, but most carers say they get used to it. However, your family member or friend may prefer to receive personal care from somebody they don’t know well.

The palliative care team is there to support you as well and may be able to take over some of these tasks. This support can help reduce your stress and free you up to spend quality time with the person you’re caring for.

Ways to help

There are many things that family and friends can do to help support someone at the end of life, including:

  • Prepare meals − Preparing meals for someone who is sick can become complicated 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 what is needed. As the disease progresses, the person may lose their appetite and not be able to eat or drink. At this time, it’s important not to force eating or drinking. If the person cannot drink, chips of ice can help to moisten the mouth.
  • Manage medicines − If you need to give medicines and feel overwhelmed, ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurses for suggestions. For tablets and capsules, a blister pack (e.g. Webster-pak) can set out all the doses that need to be taken throughout the week. Read tips for managing medicines
  • Help with bathing and washing − If the person you are caring for can’t move around easily, you may have to sponge bathe them or wash their hair over a basin.
  • Help with getting in and out of bed − It’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.
  • Assist with toileting − You may have to help the person get on and off the toilet or commode, help them use urine bottles or bed pans if they can’t get out of bed, and sometimes help them to wipe themselves. Lifting someone is hard work and you may need help with this, either from another person or mobility aids or equipment. An occupational therapist can help you choose suitable equipment.
  • Sort out the paperwork − For 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 details − People 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 errands − Friends can offer to step in with walking the dog, mowing the lawn, picking up the kids or doing the shopping – anything that eases the workload of the main carer.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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