No matter how different our lives are, one thing is for certain: none of us live forever. Eventually, each one of us will face the end of our life. In some cases, such as an accident or sudden cardiac arrest, death may be unexpected. But in other instances, a person experiences a gradual fading due to an illness. In cases where death is anticipated, decisions about end of life care need to be made.
What is End of Life Care?
End of life care involves the medical care and support a person receives in the final stage of their life. In some cases, such as a terminal illness, death is expected. But just because a curative treatment may not be possible or desired, does not mean care stops. End of life care can make the final days of someone’s life comfortable, meaningful, and peaceful.
Becoming informed about the options for end of life care is helpful to make sure a person’s needs are met. Everyone is unique and may have different concerns regarding end of life care. For example, some people may want to know that everything that could have been done medically, was carried out. For others, it’s essential to maintain a good quality of life until the end.
Providing the best possible end of life care helps the dying person remain comfortable and calm. It also decreases stress for those left behind.
Traditional End of Life Care
Traditional care, which may be given at the end of life may vary from treatment, to try to prolong life with comfort measures. Support to prolong life, such as medications to maintain blood pressure and a mechanical ventilator to assist with breathing, may be administered. Comfort measures may include supplemental oxygen, pain medication, and sedatives.
Complementary therapies may also be used along with traditional end of life care. In fact, hospice services often incorporate different complementary therapies in the care that they coordinate.
Types of Complementary Medicine as Part of End of Life Care
Typically, complementary therapies are used in end of life care to improve physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. The treatment is not used to cure a person or prolong life. Instead, complementary treatment is performed to improve quality of life.
Physical and emotional symptoms may vary greatly in the weeks and days before death. Symptoms which may occur at the end of life vary, based on the underlying illness. It’s common for people who are dying to experience shortness of breath, pain, and restlessness. Additional symptoms, such as nausea, edema, and anxiety can also occur. Complementary medicine may be useful in treating many of the typical symptoms experienced at the end of life.
But it’s not just physical symptoms that are common the months, weeks, and days before death. Emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, fear, and depression may also occur. Complementary medicine may also help improve emotional well-being and promote feelings of peace.
Therapies which may be helpful include:
Massage Therapy: There are different types of massage, which may help meet the needs of a terminal condition. Gentle massage may be especially useful to improve circulation, decrease fluid retention, and ease pain and stiffness. Massage therapy can also promote feelings of well-being and decrease anxiety.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy involves using essential oils to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Aromatherapy may also be useful in decreasing sleep difficulties and nausea. Most commonly, essential oils are applied to the body during a massage or are added to a bath.
Music Therapy: Music therapy interventions may vary based on a person’s interests, beliefs, and physical condition. Music therapy may include songwriting, moving to music, and active listening to live music. Music therapy is a non-invasive therapy, which may decrease pain, anxiety, and shortness of breath. It can also reduce feelings of depression, isolation, and fear.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. It involves stimulating specific points in the body by inserting thin needles. Acupuncture is used to restore balance to the body, which may improve well-being. When used as a complementary therapy for end of life care, acupuncture may ease nausea, fatigue, and pain. It may also be useful to decrease sleep problems.
Reflexology: Reflexology involves applying varying degrees of pressure to specific points on the feet. The theory behind reflexology is the feet are associated with specific areas of the body. By applying pressure to the feet, it can relieve certain symptoms, such as pain, nausea, and insomnia.
Benefits of Complementary Medicine
There are several potential benefits of complementary medicine. For instance, complementary therapies often do not interfere with conventional treatment, such as medication. Therapies, such as those above, usually do not cause negative side effects. Therapies can often be provided in the home, as opposed to a hospital. Certain complementary therapies can be done without having to move or reposition a patient, which may be helpful for people in pain.