Having a chronic, ultimately terminal, illness takes away a lot of one’s freedom to choose. For example, the choice to eat any food you want, to travel, or do your favorite activities. But there’s one thing you or your loved one still have control over一the kind of comfort care and end-of-life plan you want.

One such example is palliative care.

The 5 stages of palliative care aim to improve the quality of life of patients with chronic or terminal diseases. This type of care focuses on managing the symptoms of the illness along with providing specific treatments intended to cure or prevent the progression of the disease.

But above all, palliative care aims to honor one’s wishes and individual needs regarding their medical care. Learn more about palliative care and its five stages by reading our in-depth discussion below.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a type of long-term care that provides pain management and symptom relief for patients suffering with chronic illnesses. It also involves improving the patient’s quality of life by focusing on their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. These efforts are often combined with medical treatments.

Palliative care also benefits the patient’s family and loved ones by providing much-needed emotional and spiritual support. Here are some of the specific services you and your family members can expect with palliative care.

  • Symptom management (e.g., pain medications) and medical care for the disease (e.g., chemotherapy)
  • Care techniques that promote comfort and good physical and mental well-being. Some examples include breathing techniques, music therapy, and a balanced diet
  • Supporting loved ones and caregivers in providing care, such as activities of daily living
  • Spiritual services and activities
  • Medical, mental, and emotional care referrals to other professionals
  • Advance care and end-of-life planning, such as deciding on an advance health directive or creating a last will

Additionally, you or your loved one do not necessarily need to have a severe prognosis to start palliative treatments. Unlike hospice and other end-of-life options, it may be provided to patients at any stage of their disease or even right after their diagnosis.

Read more about palliative care to answer some of your frequently asked questions.

What Diseases Can Be Treated by Palliative Care?

Palliative care can benefit many individuals experiencing chronic disorders, which may eventually become fatal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this type of medical care can help relieve the symptoms and treat a wide range of diseases, such as:

  • Heart problems (38.5%)
  • Different types of cancer (34%)
  • Chronic respiratory illnesses (10.3%)
  • AIDS (5.7%)
  • Diabetes (4.6%)
  • Chronic kidney and liver disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Chronic congenital disabilities
  • Neurological disorders, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease

When is Palliative Care Given?

The World Health Organization recommends that patients should seek palliative care as early as possible in the course of any chronic or life-threatening disease. This will help treat the illness during its earlier phase, thus giving the patient a greater chance of survival.

Individuals diagnosed with severe or life-limiting conditions may be given palliative care on top of specific medical treatments for their disease. Additionally, it is given to patients of any age as long as a chronic or life-threatening illness is involved.

Where is Palliative Care Provided?

Care teams may provide palliative care in different settings based on the patient’s wants and specific medical needs. This may include:

  • Hospitals
  • Specialized clinics
  • Hospice facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Home of the patient or family member

In most cases, patients or their family members choose to get palliative care in the patient’s home. This way, the patient can get the highest level of support and medical care while surrounded by loved ones in the comfort of their own home.

5 Stages of Palliative Care

5 stages of palliative care

This type of medical life care consists of five different stages. Here’s an in-depth explanation of each of the five stages so you or your loved one can better understand the role of palliative care.

Stage One: Stable

The first phase of palliative care involves designing and creating a treatment plan suitable for the patient’s specific condition. The patient and their family will work closely with the care team to identify the physical and medical needs of the patient and who can best provide the necessary care. This may involve several palliative care professionals, including:

  • Registered nurses and other healthcare workers
  • Social workers and volunteers
  • Dietitians
  • Bereavement counselors
  • Therapists

In this stage, your palliative team will develop a plan of care that will adequately address your current symptoms and health concerns. They may also provide medical interventions to control symptoms and enhance quality of life.

Stage Two: Unstable

Stage two is also called the “unstable” phase because, during this time, either existing symptoms get worse or additional medical problems arise. Usually, these unexpected symptoms were not anticipated during stage one, requiring the care team to make urgent changes in your plan of care.

This is also the time where the palliative care team offers mental, emotional, and spiritual support. This may be exhibited through counseling services for anxiety and depression, religious gatherings, and leisure activities.

Stage Three: Deteriorating

In this stage, overall health and body function gradually decline due to worsening symptoms and progression of the illness. There’s also a tendency for severe medical problems to develop, requiring ongoing assessment and revision of the plan of care.

During this time, the patient and their family may experience physical and mental distress due to the worsening situation. So, emotional support from counselors and therapists is imperative during this phase.

Stage Four: Terminal

The terminal stage is also called the “end of life” stage to signify that death may be imminent, within days. Physical and medical care may still be provided in the patient’s home, but you can opt for a hospital setting so that more extensive medical care may be given. During this stage, patients may exhibit terminal symptoms, such as:

  • Becoming bedridden or experiencing severe mobility problems
  • Decrease or loss of appetite for food and drinks
  • Difficulty in swallowing medications
  • Severe prognosis may require daily medical interventions

Besides medical care, the palliative team continues to focus on improving quality of life through psychological, emotional, and spiritual comfort. Additionally, the care plan may also include having end-of-life medications and services at the ready.

Stage Five: Bereavement

Unfortunately, this is the stage where the patient has died. During this time, the plan of care focuses on providing support to bereaved loved ones and caregivers.

Some of the bereavement services that family members may receive include:

  • Emotional support, such as helping you connect with specific support groups
  • Spiritual support from one’s pastor, priest, or rabbi
  • Psychosocial support from psychologists or counselors to help with grief, loss, and adjustment after a loved one’s death

Bereavement programs from palliative services may last for months or as long as the family requires it.


elderly care

Contrary to popular belief, palliative care does not promote dying, nor is it only provided for the terminally ill. It is a specialized form of medical care that is useful in treating people with all sorts of illnesses, including cancer or heart disease, and provides relief from symptoms, including pain and discomfort. All these, while also focusing on the psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and their families.

If you think you or a loved one can benefit from palliative care services, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Cardinal Hospice is a hospice and palliative care organization that provides the highest quality of care to patients with life-limiting conditions. We believe that each patient deserves end-of-life care plans and services that are in line with their wishes.

We aim to bring comfort, support, and improved quality of life to patients through various services一from medical needs to offered emotional and spiritual support.

Contact us today by calling (248) 329-0483 (Oxford, MI office) or (248) 329-0483 (Bay City, MI office) so you can talk to our compassionate staff members or visit our website to learn more about the 5 stages of our palliative care services.