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Natural therapies for palliative care

Aromatherapy uses the essences of aromatic plants to promote well-being. Essential oils have been used for healing for over 5000 years. Each essential oil contains constituents, which give the oil its unique aroma and therapeutic properties. These aromas have the ability to trigger specific neurochemicals in the brain, which can influence mood, stress, appetite, blood pressure and minor pain.

Some of the more common oils used in pallative care are lavender, used for relaxation, insomnia, nausea, and depression. Chamomile is an anti-spasmodic and useful in treating some skin conditions and is also relaxing and harmonizing. Peppermint can clear the mind and counteract mental fatigue and is used to relieve nausea and bloating. Marjoram is useful for anxiety and is also an anti-spasmodic and expectorant. Geranium stimulates the body’s elimination systems and is considered a tonic for body and soul.

The list of oils is vast, and consultation with an aromatherapy practitioner will enable the correct oil to be used for maximum benefit. The application of the oils can be in several ways: a few drops in an oil burner; added to a massage base oil; a few drops in a bath. A patient named Irene always had lavender cotton balls pinned to her nightie. The application depends on the patient’s condition and once again consultation with a practitioner is recommended.

Reflexology is a form of therapeutic massage, which stimulates reflex points and relaxes the body. As the person’s condition deteriorates body massage can become uncomfortable, so a gentle foot massage is a wonderful alternative with just as many health benefits. Specific reflex points can be massaged to relieve symptoms. A young man named John in the terminal stage of his illness was plagued with constipation. John was being cared for by a hospice service that utilized natural therapies as part of the ongoing care. After one treatment of reflexology Johns uncomfortable symptom was resolved and no medical intervention was required. With regular reflexology John was able to remain comfortable. Nurses working with the hospice service also noticed that patients did not require as much pain relief when they had had a reflexology massage. The massage was offered to carer’s as well and the benefits were endless.

Flower remedies are very effective for relieving mental stress, including fear, worry, anger or depression. The aim of these remedies are to restore emotional balance, which in turn can ease physical symptoms. Each remedy has its own properties, for example the Bach remedy, aspen, is recommended for vague fears of unknown origin. One or more remedy can be used together however consultation with a flower practitioner is necessary to obtain the correct remedy. These essences are also recommended for other members of the household.

Homeopathy works on the principal of like cures like. The patient is given the medicine that in a healthy patient can produce symptoms similar to his own. The remedy is diluted to a suitable vibrational level, therefore stimulating the body’s vital energy to cure the symptoms. It is a very precise healing art and every aspect of the illness is considered before a remedy is prescribed. Homeopathy has been used successfully in palliative patients suffering nausea and headaches. The applications for homeopathy are many and varied and once again consultation with a homeopathic practitioner will ensure the correct medicine is prescribed.

Energetic Medicine, including among others, Reiki, Touch For Health, Body Harmony, Pulsing, Aurosoma, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Charka Balancing, and Therapeutic Touch are just some of the energy healing disciplines that are available. All substances have a vibrational rate, and humans are no exception. This vibrational rate is mapped in the form of energy circuits all over our bodies and surrounding space. The human aura is a good example of this. These circuits can be called meridians and the energy flow can be referred to as chi, prana, or life force. Circuits can become blocked and the role of the energy medicine practitioner is to unblock the energy flow to allow the chi or prana to flow correctly. These techniques are non-invasive and can easily be applied to bedridden and frail persons. They can also be used as energy boosters to carer’s.

Margaret Gargan is an inspirational woman who has followed a personal vision and created a model for palliative patients and their families which offers a truly innovative, enlightened and holistic approach to their care. Margaret has successfully set up three hospice services in Queensland offering medical and natural care. ‘People come to us when they are moribund and we see amazing changes to them and their families through our holistic approach’ Margaret states. With a team of exceptional professional natural therapists and volunteers their work is groundbreaking offering support for the patients and their carer’s through every stage of illness. Margaret has many heartwarming stories of journey’s she and her team have shared with those in their care. One such patient was first visited on the day she was supposed to die. After consultation with the patient and her family it was decided to incorporate several natural therapies as part of her care. Reiki and daily massages were a part of that care. The patient went on to have several months more of quality time, even going back to playing bridge. She was able to regain a peaceful quality of life and died with love, dignity and acceptance.

The use of natural therapies in palliative care is a kindness to patients, families and carers. It gives people choices in the dying process offering a gentle nurturing approach complemented by medical intervention if required. Each patient is individual in his or her needs and their choices should be paramount. This has the potential to make the passing of a loved one, peaceful, enriching and uplifting for all those who share the journey.

Spirituality

In the end-of-life stage, there is ever-increasing evidence that the control of physical and emotional symptoms and the management of psychosocial problems represent only a part of the management of a patient’s suffering. Concerns related to spiritual and existential suffering are becoming more and more evident. Some clinicians/researchers consider that it is necessary to collect and incorporate the “spiritual history” with the “standard medical history”; especially in the case of patients with life-threatening diseases. In this way the clinicians are able to understand their patients more fully and obtain indications from the patients themselves on how to address and give due attention to their spirituality.

A US study showed that 40% of the American public thought it most important to have a doctor who was spiritually in harmony with them if they were dying. It was found that what troubled 50-60% of the people interviewed when they thought about dying was: 1. not to be forgiven by God; 2. not to be reconciled with others and 3. dying while being cut off from God or a higher power.

From studies carried out with cancer patients in Japan, a high percentage of the patients needed help to find hope, peace of mind and spiritual resources. Among the motivations given by the patients requesting “assisted suicide”, it was found that in 52% of the cases, there was distress caused by pain and physical symptoms and 47% of the patients referred to loss of meaning in life (National Survey of North American Physicians). From both the physicians’ point of view, as well as the patients’, everything concerns spirituality is of utmost importance for the quality of end-of-life care.

Breitbart, Williams. Spirituality and meaning in supportive care: spirituality-and meaning-centered group psychotherapy interventions in advanced cancer, Support Care Cancer 2002; 10: 272-280.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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