One of the best parts about working in hospice is the holistic approach to care. The core interdisciplinary team – made up of doctors, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, and chaplains – is central to the concept of holistic care. In simple terms, holistic care addresses the WHOLE person. Their physical, psychological, spiritual, environmental, and caring relationships are attended to with the knowledge that each one of these areas affect the patient’s well-being, even if they are living with a terminal illness. When treatments for their terminal illness are no longer effective, the goal is to allow the patient to die comfortably and with dignity, and holistic care is the best way to achieve this goal.
When people think of holistic health they often think of alternative therapies. Of course alternative or complementary therapies can be integrated into a hospice patient’s care, such as massage, music therapy, imagery, pet therapy, and progressive relaxation. But holistic care in hospice involves the whole team (including volunteers) to facilitate an integrative approach to the patient’s care. It is best to collaborate as a team, and with family and caregivers, to determine the types of support that are best suited for the patient. In holistic care this is a combination of mainstream treatments, such as medications, to non-traditional approaches such as music therapy. One physician I used to work with made CD’s of songs from the Big Band era for her patients who grew up in that era. Not every approach, mainstream or alternative, is going to work for every patient. It is especially important to find out about the things that are meaningful to the patient individually. This is the true definition of holistic care, and each one of us can contribute so that the patient’s experience in hospice is the best it can possibly be.
A patient is so much more than their illness. The have a life history full of experiences that are meaningful to them, and indeed, have shaped them and made them who they are. As hospice workers it is our responsibility to honor their life as much as possible, which means meeting all their needs in mind, body, and spirit. This is the best possible approach to anyone who is dying. It is the final gift we can give in the days, weeks, and months before death.