Why we need to educate our youth about palliative care

Categories: Care, Featured, and Opinion.

Currently, Canada’s aging population means an increase in health challenges, such as co-morbidities, chronic and progressive diseases. Therefore, now more than ever, palliative care resources are needed to promote the health of our communities.

Palliative care is a health-care approach that focuses on improving the quality of life of patients with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer and dementia. Unfortunately, only 16 to 30 per cent of Canadians have access to palliative care services.

Why? A comprehensive review of the barriers to the access of palliative care services in Canada established lack of awareness of the benefits of palliative care and workforce shortages as top barriers.

Palliative care education among high school students, however, is a good place to start addressing the problem.

In Canada, there is insufficient public knowledge of palliative care, to the point that half of Canadians said that they didn’t know what palliative care was when surveyed in 2016. Palliative care education among students, however, can promote access to such services by leading to increased awareness and job opportunities.

Specifically, focusing education strategies on younger adults has a sizable impact on promoting awareness. This is because young adults have unique potential, enthusiasm, and creativity to work together to solve challenges. Also, with modern technology, social media has allowed teenagers to quickly reach their audience and raise awareness on pressing issues.

Improving education of palliative care within young adult cohorts also promotes engagement with palliative services in the community, such as through volunteering. This engagement is a solution to the workforce shortages in the palliative care field because it gives teenagers the opportunity to discover a passion. The more students that are passionate in palliative care, the more jobs that are created for them and by them.

Educating teenagers also increases access to palliative care services, which substantially improve community health by reducing acute care stays, congestion in emergency departments, crowded wards, and delayed/cancelled surgeries

Palliative care services also save the health-care system about $7,000 to 8,000 per patient, while enhancing the quality of life of community members, such as caregivers who often suffer severe distress.

Due to lack of focus in the Canadian high school curriculum on palliative care, students who don’t have personal experiences with palliative care are unlikely to know it exists. We can promote palliative care knowledge through mandating some volunteering in palliative care sectors as part of the 40 mandatory community hours, or through discussions during careers and civics courses.

Ultimately, the contribution of future generations is necessary in promoting a healthy community. Aging accompanied with chronic illnesses is natural, and eventually many of us will require palliative care. It is our job to advocate for a future consisting of an enhanced quality of life rather than one filled with social isolation, prolonged hospitalization, and depression.

Ladees Alhafi is a master’s student in aging and health with a focus on palliative care at Queen’s University. She can be reached at 17laah1@queensu.ca to connect more about this topic.

This article was published by the Toronto Star (Canada) https://www.thestar.com/ on 10 January 2023 

Though focused on the Canadian experience, we feel the issues raised in this article can well apply to our context in Africa, and some lessons can be learnt. APCA team.


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