The Healing Benefits of Touch: This Too is Hospice Care

Categories: Care.

Hospice care is many things. It’s medical care provided by the hospice physician and nurse. It’s psychosocial care provided by social workers, spiritual care counselors and bereavement specialists. And it is supportive care provided by certified hospice aides and patient-care volunteers. But oftentimes it’s even more.

Many hospices offer integrative therapies — such as massage and bodywork as well as music, art and aromatherapies — to complement the patient’s plan of care and improve their overall sense of well-being. 

Elizabeth M, a patient of Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care (PPHPC) in Colorado Springs, realized this when her nurse suggested she try touch therapy.

PPHPC’s  touch therapy services are performed by volunteers who are trained in light-touch hand and foot massage, much like the massage you’d enjoy during a manicure or pedicure.  But, because the volunteers use therapeutic-grade essential oil blends, developed by a certified aromatherapist, the touch therapy sessions are often tremendously helpful in managing a number of troubling symptoms, from pain, edema and nausea to anxiety, depression and insomnia.

“There are 60 volunteers at Pikes Peak who are specifically trained in touch therapies and receive education on the nine oil blends we use,” says Integrative Therapies Coordinator Nicole Maxwell. The specially formulated oils bear names like Pain Away, Peace & Calming, Bowel Balance, and Tranquility — and the outcomes from using them can be quite impressive. “Peace and Calming has been shown to relieve anxiety in the majority of our patients,” Maxwell says.

But the benefits of the service are more than physiological. “It’s that connection with another person, that human touch, that our patients appreciate so much,” notes Maxwell. “It is also moving to see family members embrace it as a ritual too. Often, they’re afraid of hurting or injuring their loved ones, so they shy away from hugging or holding them as they once did. When they see our volunteers massaging their loved ones’ hands and feet, they become more comfortable and willing to give the massages too. It becomes a ritual that helps them to reconnect.”

In the case of Mrs. M, who had no living relatives and was bedbound due to advanced cancer, the weekly touch therapy sessions not only soothed her atrophied muscles, but also helped her relax and feel more like the person she had been before becoming a patient.

How Do You Locate a Hospice that Provides Integrative Therapies?

Most hospices that offer integrative (or complementary) therapies list them as an available service on their website.  Patients and families can also inquire about the availability of services during the hospice admissions process.

To find hospices that serve the area in which a patient lives, use the “Find a Provider” search directory on the website of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, or simply conduct an Internet search for ‘hospices serving [city/state or zip code].’

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Sue Canuteson in based in Alexandria, Virginia and writes on end-of-life care.