Cultural and spiritual considerations of palliative care

  • Carried Lightly artwork by Brian Robinson depicting a stylised feather in black and white lines

Carried Lightly artwork by Brian Robinson

Darren Deves
By
Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet
Darren Deves,
Senior Research Officer
Issue
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There are a wide range of factors to consider when providing palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Palliative care is all about providing person- and family-centred care for someone with a serious or life-limiting condition, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a diverse set of cultural and spiritual needs that deserve to be met.

Understanding the cultural and spiritual considerations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is key when delivering palliative care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often have their own customary practices before, during and after death, and the time surrounding the end of someone's life should be respected and approached in a safe, responsive and culturally appropriate manner.

It is important to note there are many different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language groups and cultural and spiritual practices may vary across these groups. Health professionals should communicate with the patient and their family to understand specific cultural needs and choices. More information and resources on the provision of culturally appropriate palliative care are available on our website.

The grief experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can often be complex, compounded by other losses, and can affect individuals emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. Emotional and spiritual support should be available for people experiencing grief, and Aboriginal Health Workers and Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officers can provide this support; their roles are integral in supporting the family of a person during this difficult period.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander caregivers for those with a life-limiting illness should also be aware of the impact it can have on their own strength and resilience and should be mindful of their social and emotional wellbeing. More information and resources on grief and bereavement are available on our website.

Planning ahead for end of life is also important and involves making important health decisions before losing the ability to make them in the future. Planning ahead can help communicate a person’s financial, legal and health-related wishes to their family, doctors and health workers. It can also support family members to make informed decisions about their loved one. Advance care yarning, which involves discussing future medical treatment and attitudes towards death, is a key step for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in planning ahead. More information and resources on planning ahead are available on our website.

While the amount of information, programs and services on palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has increased in recent years, there is still a limited number of resources available in comparison to resources on other chronic diseases and health conditions. The Palliative Care and End-of-Life Care Portal on the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website is a valuable resource in this important area of health and it has been designed to assist the health workforce who provide care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families. The online portal supports clinicians and policymakers to access relevant and culturally appropriate resources, all in one place, on palliative and end-of-life care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Funded by Palliative Care Australia since 2018, the portal now includes over 500 curated resources on palliative and end-of-life care that are specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Resources include programs, courses, funding opportunities, publications, events and more. Users can keep up to date with the most recent content added to the Palliative Care and End-of-Life Care Portal by signing up to the quarterly newsletter.

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