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Symptom Assessment in Palliative Care




Effective assessment and management of symptoms is core business for palliative care. Because of their extended contact with ill people, nurses are particularly well placed to assess and manage symptoms experienced by those with life-limiting conditions. In the context of symptom assessment, Aranda highlights numerous issues faced by dying people – confrontation with dying, death, and loss, and the changing of social roles and relationships – and describes their symptoms as ‘an ever-
present and distressing reminder of
advanced disease that has a major
negative impact on quality of life
and the capacity to engage in daily
activities.’ These observations create an overall picture of a person whose condition is more likely to deteriorate than to improve, and in whom the development of a new symptom, exacerbation of existing symptoms, or a change or deterioration in general condition may be sudden and rapid.

This chapter will provide a framework for symptom assessment that takes into account the complex and multiple issues outlined above and sets symptom assessment within the wider context of the nursing admission assessment, key assessment principles, and the communication skills and attitudes that characterize the ‘human element’ of assessment.


Contents include

  • Symptom assessment tools
  • A description of the use of the family tree/genogram
  • Consideration of the assessment of difficult symptoms
  • Practical case studies
  • An extensive reference list (including books, journals and websites) for further reading and investigation
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Author / Editor Biographies

RN, BSc (Cancer and Palliative Care), DipTchg and Dip (Counselling).
Donna has worked as a palliative care educator coordinating and teacher in the Little Company of Mary's palliative care courses for registered and enrolled nurses at Calvary North Adelaide Hospital. She has also worked in the UK and has held various positions in palliative care since 1993. These include working with people with HIV/AIDS, setting up and running a specialist palliative care day care centre and developing a new lung cancer specialist nurse role. Before moving to Australia she worked as a community Macmillan palliative care specialist nurse and developed a keen interest in breathl...

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