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A healing touch

hospice massage therapy

Hospice care is generally geared toward improving the quality of life for those struggling with a disease or illness that is incurable. Treatments or therapy are meant to address the whole person: physically, emotionally and spiritually with the hope of keeping a patient as comfortable as possible with the remaining time they have left. Leah Phillipson, massage therapist, Parkview Home Health & Hospice, explains what hospice massage therapy is and the profound impact it has on patients.

The difference

Usually, traditional massage employs more vigorous techniques, focusing on moderate to deep pressure and tissue work for muscle tension or strain. Hospice massage, on the other hand, uses very slow and very gentle massage techniques focused on the improvement of physical and emotional symptoms. Hospice massage therapy is primarily for the comfort and relaxation of the patient. And while it varies from person to person, I’m simply there for what they need.

The benefits

Hospice Massage therapy provides profound healing, relief and relaxation for most patients. It has many benefits including:

  • Helps to relieve stress on the body.
  • Easing discomfort or pain through physical touch.
  • Can help relieve insomnia and other sleep struggles.
  • Gives your immune system a boost.
  • Provides physical benefits like lowering blood pressure, stabilizing heart rate, improving circulation, aiding in digestion, nausea relief and stimulating the release of endorphins.
  • Provides a patient with a sense of peace and comfort, easing fear, depression and anxiety.
  • A hospice massage therapist can be an advocate for the patient and their needs, offering an elevated level of care.

Also, because hospice patients are already in a fragile or vulnerable state, something as simple as a gentle touch, massaging of the scalp or foot can be the most compassionate thing to be offered. Through massage therapy, the patient is allowed an opportunity to relax in whatever way they need most.

What happens during a typical session?

During a massage therapy session, the patient is usually sitting in a chair or lying in bed. To start, I try to create a calm and caring atmosphere by meditating with them or playing relaxing music. As they begin to relax, I usually get my aromatherapy out and have them close their eyes and participate in some deep breathing. From there I continue into a very light massage starting with their feet and working upwards to their hands, arms, and eventually moving to their scalp and forehead. Most of the time I try to do a full body massage, but it’s not always possible and that’s okay.

The typical session usually lasts from 45-60 minutes, but no matter how long or short, in every session, I try to introduce and inform each patient of what I’m doing throughout the massage. They’re at a scary point in their life with so much uncertainty, I want to assure them throughout the process.

My goal is to give them a stress-free moment, allowing them to open up. Most patients try so hard to stay guarded and strong for the people around them, so I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, letting them know, at that moment, that I’m there for them, just them.

When is hospice massage utilized?

It can be utilized for both end of life comfort care as well as rehabilitation. I’ve had some patients for over a year, like Paul Lyons. He firmly believes as I do, that because we started his treatment with massage therapy so early in his diagnosis, we were able to digress it more. I really believe in massage therapy and it’s benefits for the mind, body and soul.

“I have been Leah’s patient for 18 months. I get a massage with her every Tuesday. Every night before I go to sleep, I reflect on what I’m grateful for that day. Every single Tuesday I’m grateful that Leah paid me a visit. As an ALS patient, that half-hour massage is the most relaxing time of the week for me and I truly appreciate it. And though there is no cure and my condition will continue to progress, I’m pain free and that credit goes to Leah. Without her help I wouldn’t feel this way,” Paul recalls.

Leah’s final thoughts

The ultimate goal of hospice massage therapy is to communicate love and care while helping to relieve pain and discomfort. I believe this line of work is a calling. There are good days and there are really hard days, but it’s truly a calling. I have the opportunity to be with families during one of the hardest times of their lives and I want to make that journey as easy as possible. To be there, in that time of need, and to help with their loved ones, it is an absolute blessing.

Helpful resources

The dedicated staff at Parkview Home Health and Hospice is committed to helping bring compassion and dignity to all services for you and your loved ones. For more information about how Parkview Hospice can provide you or a loved one with compassionate care at the end of life, call 260-373-9800 or 800-363-9977, Monday through Friday.

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