Dying in a palliative care unit or hospice

You may decide that you’d be more comfortable in a setting with staff who have the expertise to help your family and friends look after you. Specialised palliative care facilities may be called palliative care units (often associated with a hospital) or hospices. They focus on end-of-life care centred on quality of life. Staff specialise in providing physical and emotional comfort to the patient, and supporting the family before and after the death.

Palliative care units and hospices are different from most hospital wards. Usually quieter and calmer, they have a more homely environment. Many people value the relaxed surroundings, as well as the skilled staff and expert symptom management.

Palliative care unit or hospice: what are the benefits?

  • A warm and comfortable physical environment.
  • 24-hour care with expert pain and symptom control.
  • Focus is on quality not length of life.
  • Direct access to a team of professionals and volunteers trained to meet the needs of the dying patient and carers.
  • Allows the patient and their family and friends to focus on being together.
  • Carers can leave at the end of the day and get some rest.
  • Some families prefer not to live in a house where someone has died (although others find this a comfort).

What do palliative care facilities offer?

These facilities often offer short-term ‘respite’ care as well as longer-term care for the dying person. Sometimes you can go back and forth during your final weeks. Many now have a maximum length of stay, so you may want to check this with them ahead of time.

A palliative care unit or hospice may offer a break from mainstream health care or from people wanting to visit you at home. You may choose this option if you want to relieve your family from caring for you while dying, although they can still be involved. They can help in many ways, such as feeding, bathing, and offering comfort by reading, sharing music or simply being present.

When to contact a palliative care facility

Some people and their family and friends are unsure of when to contact a palliative care facility. They may wait to call until the final days, possibly missing out on the support that this environment has to offer. Some facilities have waiting lists, so talk to your palliative care team about when would be an appropriate time to make the initial contact.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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