So, how do we provide comfort without drugs?
There is a host of published evidence that music and music therapy provide relief from pain and anxiety, both by itself and in combination with medical therapies. For example, a study1 by Kathy JoGutgsell, MarkSchluchter, et. al. reported that, “A single music therapy intervention incorporating therapist-guided autogenic relaxation and live music was effective in lowering pain in palliative care patients.” This is just one of many such examples from medical literature.
Music also has power to stimulate reminiscing, even in people with dementia. Nothing triggers fond memories like an old and favorite song. Reminiscence therapy is a powerful way to reinforce feeling of dignity and self-worth. Old photo albums and general personal memorabilia are also excellent tools for reminiscing. This alternative to medical intervention is a way to improve a person’s quality of dying.
More Alternative Therapies for Comfort Care for Hospice
Aromatherapy is another non-drug intervention that is showing some promise for pain relief. The evidence is not conclusive, but studies do support the use of certain essential oils for pain.² Lavender is an aromatherapy oil that is used in many of the pain studies. Lavender has many other benefits for the hospice and palliative setting. Included are its ability to calm anxiety and depression, and improve sleep. It is also anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and bactericidal. Mixed with a carrier oil and applied directly to the skin, lavender can ease skin irritations and sores.
Sensory Stimulation, mostly in the form of massage is being studied as a non-pharmacological intervention in the hospice and palliative care setting.3 Gentle back, hand or foot massage results in the release of oxytocin in the brain. The ultimate effect of the oxytocin is a reduction in stress levels and increased feelings of wellbeing. The oxytocin release results from the stimulation of cutaneous sensory nerves, so any tactile stimulation will provide similar release and similar benefit.
The addition of aromatherapy to sensory treatment will have an additive affect at the very least. A few drops of lavender oil in a tablespoon of a carrier oil like almond oil, sesame oil, or coconut oil (organic) makes a terrific massage oil.
Recreational Activity including social contact is important to the wellbeing of us all. Reading to a patient is the most common “recreational activity” provided in hospice. The level and type of activity will, of course, depend on the individual. Being outdoors, even if just relaxing on the patio, is wonderful therapy. Participation in a hobby is another. And include music in the care environment whenever practical.