How physiotherapy helps patients in palliative care

24 June 2020

A reflection during National Palliative Care Week from Physiotherapist Caroline:

I’m a physiotherapist specialising in oncology and palliative care. While I have been working in various areas of cancer care for approximately 10 years, I’ve been at the Wesley for the past 18 months.

Traditionally, palliative patients may have been 'wrapped in cotton wool', with the fear being that they’re too sick to exercise, when in actual fact, they’re too sick NOT to be active. There has been an increased awareness as to how staying physically active can help with many aspects of an illness and the side effects of treatment.

Physiotherapy in palliative care is not only seeing patients during the end stage of life but also those who need help with symptom management, whether it be pain, breathlessness or any number of distressing symptoms.  Our treatment can often help manage these side effects without patients having to take yet another tablet.

The team is wonderful, palliative care staff are a special group of people who have an extra gentle touch and often a well developed sense of humour! In addition to the doctors and nursing staff, I enjoy working with such a cohesive team of allied health professionals including Occupational Therapists, Speech Pathologists, Dieticians and Social Workers. I also love getting to meet such a variety of patients, reacquainting with them during consequent admissions and hearing about their colourful lives.

It’s rewarding being able to help patients to optimise their mobility and function e.g. maintaining the strength to safely walk to the toilet and have a shower instead of needing to resort to bed pans and sponges or teaching them techniques to deal with an episode of breathlessness that may have previously prevented them from leaving the house. Amongst the many symptoms that our patients may experience, the resulting loss of independence can often be one of the most upsetting.

Although sad at times, it’s also satisfying helping families prepare to take their loved one home if that’s their preferred place of death. By setting them up with equipment and providing education it helps to bring some confidence to a time of potential fear and sadness.

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