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Palliative care in old age

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2001

Raymond SK Lo
Shatin Hospital, Hong Kong, China.
Jean Woo
Shatin Hospital, Hong Kong, China.


What is palliative medicine?

In 1987, the Royal College of Physicians recognized palliative medicine as a specialty, defining it as ‘the study and management of patients with far-advanced disease for whom the prognosis is limited and the focus of care is quality of life’. In 1990, the World Health Organization added its definition, ‘the active and total care of a person whose condition is not responsive to curative therapy’. The aim of palliative medicine is to control pain and other physical symptoms, together with integration of psychological, social, spiritual care and support. The ultimate goal is to help patients to achieve their best quality of life. Palliative medicine places emphasis on a holistic approach, offering care and support not just for patients but also for their families. Palliative medicine hence requires an interdisciplinary team approach. With the co-ordinated efforts of all disciplines (such as doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, clinical psychologists, dieticians, pastoral care workers and volunteers), patients can be supported in living their remaining lives as actively as possible, and families can be assisted in coping with illness, death and bereavement. Palliative care neither intends to postpone death nor does so, but affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. When a patient faces an incurable illness, it is incumbent on the palliative care team to provide the best treatment and care, adding life to days when days cannot be added to life.

Occasional papers
© 2001 Cambridge University Press

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