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A Speech Pathologists Role in Palliative and End of Life Care in Aged Care Facilities.

Speech pathologists can play a crucial role in facilitating and optimising communication and mealtime experiences in a persons journey through the end stages of their life.

As a person enters the Palliative or end of life stages, speech pathology involvement typically transitions from a rehabilitative approach towards facilitating and optimising quality of life.

The phycho-social, nutritional and medical influences during this journey can be significant and a speech pathologist can assist with reducing these negative impacts.

Decision Making

Quite often a persons journey through the end stages of their life can include family, caregivers and wider community, who all participate in decision making during this process. A speech pathologist can assist with facilitating this decision making to include:

  • Wishes of the person
  • Cultural beliefs and requirements
  • The possibility for alternative feeding, hydration and medication methods
  • The possibility for alternative feeding, hydration and medication methods

This optimises supports for swallowing difficulties to improve comfort and encourages positive mealtime experiences with family and caregivers.

End of Life Support

It is important to note that during the final stages of a persons life, they may experience a great reduction in the desire to eat or drink. This limited intake, however, can be unsettling for families and care givers, because the primary way we show our loved ones we care is often with food. Please know this is a very normal response that the body adopts to provide support toward reducing pain and creating comfort during these final days. Introducing nutrition and/or hydration during this time may interrupt these supportive processes.

Ways to show you care when your loved one does not wish to eat:

  • Ensure they have a hydrated and moist oral cavity to support oral comfort. This can include: brushing teeth, massaging gums with a soft toothbrush or oral swab, applying oral lubricants inside cheeks, to tongue surface and lip balms.
  • Give them an arm, foot or hand massage with their favourite moisturiser.
  • Hold their hand and talk to them or read to them
  • Brush their hair, do their makeup.

Remember the individuality of the process of dying revolves around the wishes, needs and beliefs a person has during the end stages of their life and a speech pathologist can provide valuable input as a part of the treating multidisciplinary team.