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A Holistic Approach to Hospice and Palliative Care

A combination of therapies works best – there isn’t just one holistic approach to hospice and palliative care. This list of different types of holistic therapies will help you create a care-based program for loved ones.

Holistic Approach to Hospice and Palliative CareIn Living at the End of Life: A Hospice Nurse Addresses the Most Common Questions, Karen Whitley Bell shares a comprehensive, insightful guide to every aspect of hospice care and the final stages of life. She’s a Registered Nurse who has first-hand experience with hospice and palliative care, and she addresses different types of holistic approaches. This is a valuable book for people in hospice care, as well as their friends and families, as well as a source of comfort and spiritual healing.

This article is geared towards family members with a loved one in hospice, but palliative care nurses and staff might also find this holistic approach to hospice and palliative care to be helpful. If a family member is entering a hospice, you may find 12 Gift Ideas for Someone Who is Dying helpful.

Whether you’re a staff member or family, remember that your presence is a source of support and comfort to patients. Simply being there – fully present with your loved one, not worried about what to say and not scared of death – is a holistic approach to palliative care. That, of course, is easier said than done. Books like Living at the End of Life are extremely helpful because they “normalize” the dying process. And that in itself is a holistic approach to hospice care.

To write this article, I interviewed Lisa Browder. She started as a volunteer at Nathan Adelson Hospice in 1986, and is now the manager of the Bonnie Schreck Memorial Complementary Therapies Program. Here, she describes how a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care can help patients. She describes therapies such as aromatherapy, massage, Reiki, music therapy, and pet visitation.

Holistic Approaches to Hospice Care

Palliative care in hospices and residential care homes can be scary and painful, especially if you’re visiting a family member you’re close to. These ideas for how to help a loved one in hospice are practical, and will help alleviate the fear and awkwardness you may feel when you visit. Each of these tips offer one holistic approach to hospice and palliative care, and can bring comfort to both you and your loved one.

To truly be there for someone you love, you need to let go of your expectations, plans, hopes, and wishes for their life and death. Surrender and acceptance is the only way to find freedom from fear and pain. You’ll still grief the end of your loved one’s life, but you’ll grieve in peace and acceptance. This in itself – acceptance and surrender – is a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care.

Allow life to unfold – but not as planned

Holistic Approach to Palliative Hospice CareIf you’re uncomfortable with the thought of death, read Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Atul Gawande is a practicing surgeon who offers examples of freer, more holistic models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly. He explores the varieties of hospice care and shows that a person’s last weeks or months can be rich and dignified. Books like this will help you approach palliative care differently.

Lisa has learned that dying is an intricate process that doesn’t usually go according to plan. To start to prepare for death – in hospice or palliative care at home – you might learn what happens internally. How do emotions and spiritual beliefs impact the dying process? This in itself is a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care: being open to learning and talking about the process of dying.

If your loved one is in palliative or hospice care, ask the staff about the complementary and alternative medicine and therapies they offer. Massage, Reiki, art therapy, reflexology, pet therapy, music therapy and aromatherapy are examples of complementary and alternative therapies that play a significant role in a loved one’s transition from life to death.

Essential oils and aromatherapy in hospice care

Holistic Approach to Hospice Care

Essentia Oil Diffuser – Hospice Care

A popular holistic approach to hospice and palliative care is scent. Essential oils for a soothing bath include lavender, frankincense, myrrh and rose. If you don’t feel comfortable giving your loved one a bed or tub bath, a hospice care worker can help. Aromatherapy can be the source of pleasant, loving, happy memories of the past.

The Essential Oil Diffuser,URPOWER® Portable Aromatherapy Diffuser is also a humidifier that prevents dry and chapped skin. It fills the air with whatever essential oil you choose, and humidifies dry air. It has an auto shut-off so you don’t have to worry about leaving it on. This diffuser has different colors of lights, which means you can change the atmosphere in the room with a touch of the button. The light itself is a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care.

Before you decide that essential oils may be good therapy for a loved one in hospice, talk to the the staff. Sometimes aromas are too strong. Talk to your family, as well; if your loved one is reminded of painful memories when he smells Frankincense, for instance, you’ll want to avoid that essential oil. Some palliative care facilities offer essential oil roll-ons for sorrow and grief, to help family process the loss of their loved one.

Light touch and soothing creams for palliative patients

Another holistic approach in hospice care is a soothing cream with therapeutic properties. Therapeutic creams are formulated with essential oils known for their specific healing and soothing properties, and they can help your loved one cope with symptoms such as nausea, respiratory issues, depression, muscular aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, dry/itchy skin, constipation, edema and stress. The added benefit is the pleasant and mild aroma.

Soothing Lotion Holistic Approach Palliative Care

Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Cream Wash is a gentle alternative to a therapeutic-grade cream. Finding the right complementary and alternative medicines and therapies for hospice patients might take some time and research, but the benefits are priceless.

Related to this, a hospice massage therapist and/or reflexologist can provide comforting touch to your loved one throughout the dying process. Massage is a wonderful alternative and complementary therapy for hospice patients. Gentle massage will help your loved one feel physically and emotionally comforted.

Pet therapy for palliative patients

If your loved one moved to hospice care and left a pet behind, check with the staff about different types of pet therapy. This is one of the best ways to help a loved on in hospice: bring his own dog or cat in for a visit, or ask if a pet therapist can visit.

Pet therapy research shows that hospice patients have lower blood pressure, and lower heart and respiratory rates after petting an animal. And, they sleep better. This all contributes to overall health and wellness which can help a loved one who is scared to die.

Art therapy

Art Therapy Holistic Approach to Hospice and Palliative CareArt therapy is a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care that can help both patients and family members cope with unresolved emotional issues.

Lynnette Rozine Prock created Quiet The Mind: An all-age, art therapy activity book to encourage finding peace first from within. It’s an inspirational, encouraging book that includes affirmations, visualizations, journaling and more suggestions to help you find insights you wouldn’t otherwise. Quietening the mind isn’t just a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care; it’s an essential part of a peaceful life.


Massage and reflexology are hands-on holistic approaches that unravel tight muscles and promote relaxation for hospice patients. Until about 10 years ago, most complementary or alternative therapies for palliative care patients were considered unconventional and a waste of time. Today, complementary and alternative medicines are being much more common. Hospice doctors, nurses, and staff are seeing the difference they can make for people who are dying and their families.

Reiki is a wonderful, warm exchange of energy between the patient and the practitioner that commonly puts patients to sleep, and most people can attest to the soothing power of soft music to lull the senses into a quieter state.

Music therapy in hospice care

Hospice and Palliative Care Holistic Approaches

A Holistic Approach to Hospice and Palliative Care

Some hospices have formal music therapists who visit the patients’ rooms, and play guitar, harmonica, violin, ukelele, or other instruments for the patients and families. Other hospices have music stations on the television, which can be left on without anyone having to worry about getting up to change the CD.

“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley.

If your spouse is in hospice, read Practical Tips and Prayers for Grieving Widows.

These holistic approaches to hospice and palliative care can help alleviate a patient’s physical symptoms and soothe the mind and spirit. Massage therapists who work in hospice care know how to adjust pressure and technique to accommodate every nuance of the dying process.

A warm, comforting environment

Holistic Approach to Palliative and Hospice CareTo create the warmth and coziness of soft light, consider the Flameless LED Illumicandle Candle. These are battery operated electric candles, so you don’t have to worry about flames, matches, wax, or smoke in the hospice. These candles also include a remote control with a timer.

Battery-operated candles are safe, odorless, smoke-free, and easy to operate. Bringing these candles to the hospice will give you something practical to do when you visit your loved one, and will bring comfort and warmth to the room.

Caring for your loved one in hospice can bring you moments of great beauty and peace. This experience has the potential to change you in positive ways.

Final gifts for hospice and palliative patients

Final Gifts Holistic Approach to Palliative and Hospice CareTo learn more about caring for a hospice patient or a loved one who is facing death, read Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. It’s filled with practical advice on responding to the requests of people who are dying and helping them prepare emotionally and spiritually for the end of life. This book will give you more ideas on how to help a loved one in hospice care live fully to the very end.

Remember that your relationships don’t have to continue the way they’ve always been. Learning how to help a loved one in hospice can bring the power to heal family rifts, bridge gaps, and open hearts.

“With my last breath, I’ll exhale my love for you. I hope it’s a cold day, so you can see what you meant to me. – Jarod Kintz.

Are you facing the death of your spouse? Read Starting Over in Your 60s – After Your Husband Dies. The comments section may be especially helpful, as many widows have shared their experience.

If you have any thoughts on therapies and approaches to hospice care, please share below. Do you have a holistic approach to hospice and palliative care? Please do share below.


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