The 5 Stages of Palliative Care

ailing older person in hospital bed

When a loved one enters palliative care, it is important to know that they will be receiving the highest quality care possible while navigating a serious illness. Palliative care is focused on minimizing pain and improving quality of life for both the patient and their families, and exists in five stages. Here, we will explore what palliative care is, when it’s appropriate, and what each stage in palliative care comprises.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a type of specialized care for patients with serious illnesses. The goal of palliative care is to provide relief from the symptoms of the illness while improving the quality of life for the patient, their family members and loved ones. Palliative care is based on the individual patient’s needs and not on their prognosis, and it can be provided to patients of any age. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists specially trained in palliative care practices.

In addition to focusing on relieving the physical symptoms of an illness, palliative care emphasizes stress relief and ensures that the patient is experiencing as much emotional well-being as possible. Palliative caregivers work with patients to determine their emotional and spiritual needs, in addition to their physical and medical needs.

When Is Palliative Care Appropriate?

While palliative care is often provided to elderly patients, it can be provided to patients of any age who have been diagnosed with a serious, chronic, or life-threatening illness. It is often a good choice for patients who have been hospitalized or visited the emergency room multiple times over the course of a year.

Where Are Palliative Services Provided?

Palliative services can be provided in a number of settings. These can include hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities. Palliative services may also be provided to a patient at home.

The Stages Involved in Palliative Care

There are five main stages involved in palliative care. Understanding these stages may help patients, their family members and loved ones better understand how palliative care is given.

the stages involved in palliative care

Stage One

During the first stage of palliative care, the patient, their family members and/or loved ones will work with healthcare professionals to create a palliative care plan. At this stage, the patient’s symptoms can be adequately managed by existing treatments, but a plan will be made to maintain symptom management and quality of life as the patient’s illness progresses. Stage one is also known as the “stable phase.”

Stage Two

Stage two is also known as the “unstable phase” since, at this point, the patient begins to experience symptoms that require intervention on the part of a team of medical professionals. During this stage, the patient may experience the development of a new problem or set of symptoms related to their illness, or an increase in the severity of existing problems or symptoms. An urgent or drastic change to their palliative care treatment may be required.

At this stage, the patient, their family members and loved ones are often offered emotional and spiritual support, provided by healthcare professionals, a chaplain or other spiritual leader.

Stage Three

During stage three, the patient experiences gradually worsening symptoms, and new and unexpected symptoms or medical problems may also arise. This stage is known as the “deteriorating phase.” During this stage, it is common for loved ones and family members to experience worsening distress and difficulty maintaining their regular routines, which may require increased emotional support and counselling.

Stage Four

Stage four involves arranging inpatient care at a hospice or hospital, or at home if possible. It is often the case that end-of-life care is required during stage four. During this stage, the patient is usually bed-bound, has difficulty swallowing medication, is disoriented and disinterested in food or drink, and requires daily health interventions. Overall care is generally focused on emotional and spiritual well-being for both patients and their family members and loved ones.

Stage Five

Stage five occurs after the death of the patient. During this stage, also known as the “bereaved phase,” family members and loved ones may be provided with a planned bereavement plan, which can extend for many months.

The Role of MIP Cares

doctor visiting elder couple

At MIP Cares, the comfort and wellbeing of you and your loved ones is top of mind. For more than 40 years, we have been committed to supplying high-quality, medical-grade products to help facilitate a good quality of life without compromise at all stages of medical care. Whether you are a frontline worker caring for a patient, or someone providing care to a loved one at home, we are here to support you while you are caring for others, in palliative care settings and beyond.