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Palliative Care: What you need to know

When someone you love is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, you might encounter the term “palliative care.” Palliative care can make a big difference to a patient’s quality of life – and to the lives of their family members – but what does it mean? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about palliative care.


Palliative care is specialized health care for people with life-threatening illness and their families. Treatment plans are personalized to meet the needs of the patient and their family, and aim to ensure the best quality of life by providing relief from the symptoms, pain and stress that are by-products of the illness.

The World Health Organization defines palliative care as:


Serious illnesses affect all aspects of the patient’s life, as well as the lives of their family members. The goal of palliative care is to provide wide-ranging support in the following areas:

Physical symptoms

Emotional and social challenges

Practical problems

Spiritual issues


“Palliative care has been shown to significantly reduce depression, anxiety, symptom burden and improve quality of life, and sometimes even increases life expectancy for people with life-limiting illnesses,” says Dr. David Henderson, medical director of Colchester East Hants Palliative Care Program.

He stresses the importance of palliative care as Canada’s population continues to age. According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in six Canadians was age 65 or older as of July 1, 2015. By 2024, Canadians aged 65 years and older will account for more than 20 percent of the population. In Nova Scotia, which has a greater population of seniors and a higher incidence of chronic disease, access to palliative care is even more important.

The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians recently released a report calling on all levels of government to improve access to palliative care. Currently, only one in three Canadians has access to specialized palliative care services.

Where can I LEARN MORE?

For more information about palliative care services in Nova Scotia, visit Caregivers Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Hospice Palliative Care Association.