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The 5 Stages of Palliative Care and the 7 Stages of Dying in 2024

Palliative care is a type of care that aims to improve the quality of life of people with serious or life-limiting illnesses and their families. Palliative care can be provided at any stage of the illness, from diagnosis to death, and can be combined with curative or life-prolonging treatments. Palliative care can help with pain and symptom management, emotional and spiritual support, communication and coordination of care, and advance care planning.

Dying is a natural and inevitable part of life, but it can also be a complex and challenging process. Dying can involve physical, emotional, social, and spiritual changes, and each person’s experience is unique. However, there are some common patterns and stages that can help us understand and prepare for the end-of-life journey.

In this article, we will explore the 5 stages of palliative care and the 7 stages of dying, and how they can help us cope with the illness and the death of ourselves or our loved ones.

Read also Palliative Care vs Hospice (Why Palliative Care is Not Always the Best Option)

The 5 Stages of Palliative Care

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), palliative care can be divided into 5 stages, based on the patient’s condition, prognosis, and needs:

  • Stage 1: Early Palliative Care. This stage begins at the time of diagnosis of a serious or life-limiting illness, or when the patient has a high risk of developing such an illness. The goal of this stage is to provide information, education, and counseling to the patient and the family, and to address any physical, emotional, social, or spiritual issues that may arise. This stage can also help the patient and the family to make informed decisions about the goals and preferences of care, and to plan for the future.

 

  • Stage 2: Intermediate Palliative Care. This stage begins when the patient’s condition becomes more complex or unstable, or when the patient experiences a significant decline in function or quality of life. The goal of this stage is to provide more intensive and specialized care to the patient and the family, and to manage any symptoms or complications that may occur. This stage can also help the patient and the family to cope with the uncertainty and stress of the illness, and to adjust to the changes and losses that may occur.

 

  • Stage 3: Advanced Palliative Care. This stage begins when the patient’s condition becomes incurable or irreversible, or when the patient has a limited life expectancy. The goal of this stage is to provide comfort and support to the patient and the family, and to focus on the quality rather than the quantity of life. This stage can also help the patient and the family to prepare for the end-of-life, and to deal with any ethical, legal, or practical issues that may arise.

 

  • Stage 4: Terminal Palliative Care. This stage begins when the patient’s death is imminent, or when the patient enters the active dying phase. The goal of this stage is to provide compassionate and dignified care to the patient and the family, and to ensure that the patient’s wishes and values are respected. This stage can also help the patient and the family to say goodbye, and to experience a peaceful and meaningful death.

 

  • Stage 5: Bereavement Care. This stage begins after the patient’s death, and lasts for as long as the family needs. The goal of this stage is to provide emotional and spiritual support to the family, and to help them cope with the grief and loss. This stage can also help the family to celebrate the life and legacy of the patient, and to find closure and healing.

 

The 7 Stages of Dying

According to the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, dying can be divided into 7 stages, based on the emotional and psychological responses of the patient and the family:

 

  • Stage 1: Shock and Denial. This stage begins when the patient or the family receives the news of a terminal diagnosis, or when the patient’s condition worsens significantly. The reaction is one of disbelief, numbness, or denial, as a way of coping with the overwhelming and devastating reality. The patient or the family may refuse to accept the diagnosis, seek a second opinion, or hope for a miracle.

 

  • Stage 2: Pain and Guilt. This stage begins when the patient or the family realizes the severity and inevitability of the situation, and experiences intense emotional and physical pain. The pain may be accompanied by guilt, regret, or remorse, as the patient or the family may blame themselves or others for the illness, or wish they had done things differently.

 

  • Stage 3: Anger and Bargaining. This stage begins when the patient or the family feels frustrated, angry, or resentful, and expresses their feelings towards themselves, others, or a higher power. The anger may be directed at the doctors, the nurses, the caregivers, the friends, the relatives, or even the patient. The patient or the family may also try to bargain with God, fate, or the universe, and make promises or sacrifices in exchange for a cure or more time.

 

  • Stage 4: Depression and Loneliness. This stage begins when the patient or the family feels hopeless, helpless, or worthless, and experiences a deep sense of sadness, despair, or isolation. The patient or the family may withdraw from others, lose interest in activities, or have thoughts of suicide. The patient or the family may also grieve for the losses they have suffered or will suffer, such as the loss of health, independence, identity, or future.

 

  • Stage 5: The Upward Turn. This stage begins when the patient or the family starts to accept the reality and inevitability of the death, and begins to cope with the situation in a more positive and constructive way. The patient or the family may find some meaning, purpose, or value in the experience, and may seek comfort, support, or guidance from others. The patient or the family may also express gratitude, forgiveness, or love, and may make peace with themselves, others, or a higher power.

 

  • Stage 6: Reconstruction and Working Through. This stage begins when the patient or the family starts to plan for the end-of-life, and begins to work through the practical and emotional issues that may arise. The patient or the family may make arrangements for the funeral, the will, the finances, or the care of the loved ones. The patient or the family may also resolve any conflicts, fulfill any wishes, or complete any unfinished business.

 

  • Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope. This stage begins when the patient or the family reaches a state of calmness, peace, or serenity, and accepts death as a natural and inevitable part of life. The patient or the family may feel ready to let go, and may have a sense of closure or completion. The patient or the family may also have a sense of hope or optimism, and may look forward to the afterlife, the reunion, or the rebirth.

Conclusion

Palliative care and dying are two interrelated and complex processes that involve physical, emotional, social, and spiritual changes. By understanding the 5 stages of palliative care and the 7 stages of dying, we can better cope with the illness and the death of ourselves or our loved ones, and we can make the most of the remaining time. 

Palliative care and dying are not linear or fixed processes, and each person’s experience is unique and personal. However, there are some common patterns and stages that can help us understand and prepare for the end-of-life journey.

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