Helping people with a life-limiting illness to engage with activities or occupations that are both essential and meaningful to them and, in doing so, fostering a sense of ability, dignity, and control.
Occupational therapists (OTs) support people of all ages and abilities to engage in activities or occupations that they find meaningful. Occupation refers to self-care or personal care, work-related or domestic activities, or leisure activities. Occupational therapy assessments seek to understand what occupations are important to the client, any current issues they may have in doing them, and understanding the client’s goal(s). Occupational therapy interventions may include modifying an activity or an environment, education and advice about services, and prescriptions for assistive equipment where required. [1-3]
OTs may have roles of advanced or extended practice or scope of practice which reflect a level of expertise within or beyond the established contemporary scope of practice. [3-5]
Palliative care provides a support system for people living with a life-limiting condition to live as actively as possible, with dignity, for as long as possible. It is active and supportive care that seeks to maximise quality of life.  It is useful well before death and not limited to care of the dying. 
In helping people with palliative care needs, an OT: [7-13]
OTs may work in palliative care as only part of their role or have a palliative care caseload with a specialist role. This may be a member of a multidisciplinary team or a sole practitioner.
The scope of occupational therapy palliative care interventions across Europe has been mapped in a cross-sectional survey. 
The RACGP aged care clinical guide (Silver Book 2019) recognises the role of allied health professionals in team care arrangements for a proactive person-centred approach to palliative care.  Palliative Care Australia also recognises the importance of access to information and support from a diverse range of allied health services for patients, families and carers. 
The role of allied health in palliative care is to provide the person with as much therapy time as possible. The goal of allied health in palliative care is around maintaining and improving functional ability. There may be a blurring of roles across allied health professions in palliative care more than in other care contexts.
Useful evidence-based information and resources on rehabilitative palliative care are available from Hospice UK.
Although OTs are familiar with evidence and evidence-based practice through their training and continuing professional development (CPD), keeping up to date can be time-consuming.
CareSearch provides the tools to help find and use palliative care evidence. This includes PubMed searches on a multitude of topics and sections dedicated to Searching for Evidence and Using Evidence in Practice.
For support in applying evidence in practice, check out the Journal Club Basics page on CareSearch which provides information on the benefits of and practical pointers in setting up or joining a journal club.
Codes and guidelines to provide guidance to the occupational therapy profession developed by The Occupational Therapy Board of Australia are freely accessible.
Occupational Therapy Australia has published position papers: Occupational Therapy in Palliative Care (555kb pdf) (August 2015) and Occupational Therapy in Oncology (553kb pdf) (August 2015). [13,17]
The Palliative Care Service Development Guidelines 2018 (340kb pdf) provides an overview of OT (as part of allied health) in palliative care. 
Guidelines for the role of OT in cancer and end-of-life care have been developed in USA, Canada and UK. [11,18]
OTs have an important role in supporting patients, carers and their families with information. The CareSearch Resources for Patients, Carers and Families provides links to useful information including fact sheets and printable resources OTs can download and share.
Occupational Therapy Australia has published a booklet 'Helping you live until you die - A guide for people with a life-limiting illness, their family and friends'
The National Palliative Care Strategy 2018 lists as a priority the ability of medical, nursing and allied health graduates to identify and address people’s palliative care needs (Priority 2.1, p15).  This is also highlighted for the acute sector in the Guiding Principles of the National Consensus Statement: essential elements for safe and high-quality end-of-life care which also recognises the importance of the role of an interdisciplinary team. 
CareSearch lists a collection of Palliative Care eLearning resources for allied health for independent learning.
Watch the Palliative Care Bridge video on manual handling
Read the Occupational Therapy Australia paper on palliative care (1.8MB pdf)
Read the CareSearch Allied Health blogs
Last updated 24 October 2023