Hospice treatment, for the seriously and terminally ill, can also include alternative care options.
What is Hospice?
Hospice care provides treatment and palliation for patients who have serious or terminal illnesses. “Emotional and spiritual needs” are also addressed in this “philosophy of care”. Modern hospice treatment was pioneered by Dame Cicely Saunders in the 1950s, but hospice-type services had been offered for centuries prior. Hospice care has historically faced “resistance springing from…professional or cultural taboos”, due to discomfort about communicating about death, medical techniques that were unfamiliar, and even “professional callousness towards the terminally ill”. Today, there is an International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, and other organizations, such as the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the US National Hospice Organization that develop care models. A recent, independent study by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and a UK organization found that 15% of the countries in the world offer “widespread palliative care” and 35% had limited or localized services. Providers of hospice care include the hospice nurse and family care givers. The most common form of hospice treatment is in the home. Hospice care is given to patients who are “terminally ill or expected to die in six months”. Hospice not only reduces the costs of Medicare, but it decreases inpatient hospitalizations and ER visits, which can be traumatic for loved ones and patients. Hospice care includes medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and round-the-clock access to “care and support for loved ones following a death”. Aside from home treatment, hospice is also available in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living homes, and veterans’ facilities.1 According to the NHPCO, palliative care should help patients and families with physical, emotional, spiritual, and social pain, with the goal of extending the “best possible quality of life”. The NHPCO feels that hospice programs should encourage earlier access to care, and they should promote dignity and comfort.2
While opioids and other medications are offered to hospice patients, they leave the patients sedated. Complementary and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and massage, are being offered to hospice patients as well. In fact, a recent study showed that 41% of the hospice facilities offered alternative treatment options, and this number is on the rise. Medications can leave patients with side effects, pain, or nausea, as well as drowsiness. Alternative treatments can help patients cope with these issues. Acupuncture has been found to help patients manage their nausea. It also improves digestive issues such as vomiting and constipation, which is important, since medications like morphine interfere with digestion. Guided imagery, music therapy, and massage can help patients with pain management. Patients can relax with these alternative treatments. These kinds of therapy are “benign” and can be used “at any time”. If hospitals restrict access to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), families could seek consultation with their physician about hospice care.3 Additional alternative treatments available in hospice include art therapy, pet therapy, and massage. Massage therapists adapt their treatment to the patients’ needs. Massage not only has physical benefits that reduce stress, alleviate pain, and decrease the incidence of bed sores, but there are “psychosocial benefits” from “compassionate touch”.4
Learn more about massage for hospital patients.