Alternative medicine is any healing practice that does not fall within the realm of what is typically known as conventional clinical medicine. Complementary and alternative therapies, such as reflexology, massage, aromatherapy and pet therapy, are important supportive aspects of palliative hospice care.
Complementary and alternative therapies integrate the patient's mind, body and spirit connection. The use of alternative therapies can often provide greater benefits than traditional measures alone. Typically, they are inexpensive and produce few side effects. The principles of healing that are emphasized in the use of alternative therapies encourage active participation of the patient and family.
Some of the most commonly used complementary and alternative modalities used in hospice care include:
• Massage. Light massage is aimed at reducing muscle tension and rehydrating skin, while bringing nurturing touch to the bedside.
• Reflexology. This alternative medicine involves applying pressure to the feet, hands or ears of patients, stimulating the thousands of nerve endings that correlate to organs, glands and other structures for symptom relief.
• Reiki. This Japanese energy therapy is administered by laying hands on the patient to rebalance the body's energy fields and produce deep relaxation.
• Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese practice treats patients by insertion and manipulation of needles in the meridians of the body.
• Aromatherapy. This noninvasive modality uses essential oils to produce relaxation, symptom relief from nausea or dyspnea, promote wound healing or reduce odors for many patients.
• Meditation. Mental concentration allows the mind and body to become very relaxed. Meditation helps people to focus and be quiet. There are many different forms of meditation. Most involve deep breathing and paying attention to your body and mind.
• Activities Therapy. Creative outlets, such as music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy, and horticultural therapy can provide a mental healing diversion for patients and families.
With most complementary therapies, the patient's health is looked at from a holistic (or whole picture) point of view. From a holistic viewpoint, all aspects of the patient's needs-- psychological, physical and social -- are taken into account and seen as a whole.
Quality, comfort care remains at the forefront of hospice patients' needs and families' wishes. Complementary and alternative therapies can help alleviate physical symptoms and harmonize the mind-body-spirit continuum.
1. Lewis CR, Vedia A, Reuer B, Schwan R, Tourin C. Integrating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into standard hospice and palliative care. AM J HOSP PALLIAT CARE May/June 2003 vol. 20 no. 3 221-228.
2. Mirsch T. Enhancing Hospice with Complementary Therapy. ADVANCE for Long-Term Care Management. Retrieved from http://long-term-care.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/Enhancing-Hospice-with-Complementary-Therapy.aspx on Oct. 31, 2011.
Elizabeth Rosto Sitko is managing editor of ADVANCE.
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