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Complementary therapy in Palliative Care

by Alison Blair [email protected]

Although the origin of some complementary therapies predates the advent of modern biomedicine, they have not been incorporated into mainstream medical care until recently. The goal of complementary therapies is essentially the same as that proposed by the World Health Organisation for palliative care.

Over the past fifteen years there has been a rapidly growing acceptance of the use of complementary therapies within UK hospices and hospitals, particularly in palliative care and oncology where patients are often offered six sessions of therapy during or following medical or surgical treatment; this approach is mirrored in many other European countries and across the world.

Several research programmes have been rolled out and although the strength of the evidence varies, many benefits to patients, their carers and clinicians have been clearly identied. They also generally have a favourable risk/benefit ratio.

Used for symptom management and to enhance a sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being, they serve as adjuncts to mainstream care optimising patients’ quality of life, reducing stress levels and the side effects of toxic drug regimes considerably.

Complementary therapies are diverse, ranging from unproved protocols that offer false hope to adjunctive complementary therapies that provide legitimate supportive care. Patients with advanced illness who are receiving palliative care, facing a poor prognosis, and experiencing a heavy symptom burden, often seek health-care practices and agents outside the realm of mainstream medicine.

Defining complementary therapy

Complementary means completing, so therapies used together with conventional medicine complete the approach offered

Conventional medicine refers to the standard treatments offered in mainstream medicine, sometimes referred to as Allopathic or Biomedical and form part of the scientific era in which we now live

Complementary therapies, many of which have been used for thousands of years, are a diverse range of treatments and practices, based on different philosophies and beliefs and used effectively to relieve distress in mind, body, emotions and spirit. Not previously taught in western medical schools, this situation is rapidly changing.

There are around 200 different complementary therapies on record which can be divided into four main groups, helping us understand how they are used:

1. Biochemical such as herbs, dietary supplements, minerals, vitamins, Bach flower essences, aromatherapy oils

2. Biomechanical such as massage, osteopathy, chiropractic, Alexander technique, Bowen technique

3. Lifestyle such as environment, diet, exercise, and mind/body techniques such as meditation, relaxation, imagery, hypnosis, NLP

4. Bioenergetic such as acupuncture, Reiki, therapeutic touch, kinesiology, reflexology, TFT and EFT

Complementary medicine refers to substances that are taken by mouth or injected, or applied to the skin, or inhaled, not prescribed by a doctor (Often referred to as natural medicines)

Holistic approach is a concept in medical and non-medical practice which addresses all aspects of a person’s pain or distress, psychological, physical, spiritual and social which, when taken into account, is seen as a whole and is often referred to as ‘total pain’

Addressing ‘Total Pain’ in a palliative care setting

Striving to provide holistic palliative care in the community, the clinical team at Madrugada Associação believe that complementary therapy plays a valuable role in the support of patients and their families. Mindfall of the vulnerability and frailty of most patients and the powerful effects that some therapies have, practitioners take great care to ensure that the therapy offered is both appropriate and manageable for the patient. Many patients gain additional benefit from the relationship that can develop between therapist and patient, enabling them to talk about their feelings in a non-clinical and safe environment.

Working in conjunction with several excellent therapists some of whom can now be found at the Lagos Foot Clinic, Madrugada are able to offer some treatments at the Foot Clinic and some in patient’s homes. Eventually a wider range of therapies will become available at the Madrugada Centre which is due to open in Luz once sufficient resources become available.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of complementary therapy and what might be appropriate for you, contact Madrugada on 282 761 375

Further resources available from Macmillan