Patients who are suffering from a terminal illness often experience significant pain. Although this is considered a normal part of the process, there is no need for most patients to suffer. Modern medicine has a range of effective pain relief options that can allow people who are approaching death to be more comfortable.
Hospice’s Pain Management Philosophy
Hospice can be thought of as a type of specialized care focused on comfort that gives patients the tools they need to control their pain and other symptoms that are experienced at the end of life. One of hospice’s driving principles is that no one should die in pain, and it uses a holistic approach to minimize people’s physical, emotional and spiritual suffering.
To be eligible for hospice, patients must have been given a diagnosis of six months or less to live if their terminal illness runs its typical course. Hospice is a valuable resource for these patients and their families because it provides a more comprehensive approach than hospital care.
Hospice Versus Hospitals
Hospitals are focused on curing people and treating their sickness, which is not an option for patients with end-stage disease. For these patients, hospice’s focus on comfort care is more appropriate and can allow them dignity and compassion during their final days. Although hospitals are prepared to provide people with medication, antibiotics, fluid and bed rest, their main goal is to fight sickness.
Hospices, in contrast, offer a broad range of pain management and emotional support services. One aspect that sets them apart from hospitals in the possibility of non-medical approaches to treating pain. Outlined below are some of the non-pharmacological pain management approaches used by hospices that are not typically found in hospitals.
Massage is often offered as part of hospice to alleviate pain and anxiety in patients, with some hospices enlisting the help of volunteer massage therapists.
According to a 2008 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, advanced cancer patients experiencing moderate to severe pain enjoyed statistically significant improvement in pain relief as well as emotional and physical distress after two weeks of massage therapy or simple touch therapy(1).
Music therapy is a powerful tool used by many hospices to help people physically, spiritually and emotionally. Music therapy has been shown in studies not only to reduce pain and anxiety but also promote relaxation and support legacy and life review work, which is an important part of the end-of-life process for many patients.
Music therapy can be particularly beneficial to patients whose pain and symptoms are difficult to control with traditional medical interventions and those who feel anxious or have dementia.
Acupuncture, an ancient technique that hails from Asia, can help address many types of pain in terminally ill patients. It involves inserting very fine needles into a patient’s skin at certain acupoints that are believed to provide pain relief by releasing endorphins, impacting the part of the brain governing chemicals that control mood.
The needles are typically left in place for 10 to 30 minutes and may also be manipulated with mild heat or electrical stimulation to enhance the effects(2).
Pet ownership has been shown to have an array of health benefits, and pet interaction is also useful for terminally ill patients. Studies have shown that patients who interacted with dogs enjoyed a clinically meaningful reduction in pain(3).
Visits with therapy dogs are believed to reduce stress hormones, increase the levels of the body’s natural opiates known as endorphins, and raise levels of oxytocin, a hormone that can change a person’s experience of pain and response to stress. It can also improve mood, which can contribute to pain relief.
Cold or Hot Compresses
Patients who are experiencing concentrated pain in a particular location may benefit from cold or hot compresses. The individualized care offered by hospice enables carers to provide patients with tailored solutions to the cause of their pain that can be adjusted as their pain changes thanks to the regular one-on-one interactions between patients and their assigned caregivers.
Physical and emotional pain are strongly linked, and addressing issues like depression and anxiety that people commonly face during end of life can go a long way toward improving their physical pain as well.
Hospice can provide patients with volunteers to talk through end-of-life issues and chaplains for spiritual support.
Both hospices and hospitals provide patients with pain medications ranging from mild analgesics like aspirin and ibuprofen to strong opiates like morphine to address different levels of pain.
However, hospices have the advantage of also addressing pain with alternative techniques for a more comprehensive approach.
Get In Touch With The Pain Management Team
If you or a loved one is dealing with pain as part of a terminal illness, get in touch with the pain management team at Harbor Light Hospice to find out more about the pain management techniques we can offer to give patients the highest quality of life possible.