• Deborah Casey

Using Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy in Palliative Care PT1


Hello and welcome to this short blog course in the use of holistic therapy and Aromatherapy in palliative care. Previously I have worked as a nurse and experienced end of life care and the training in the care of end of life of terminally ill patients with cancer and dementia. The observation of suffering of both the patient’s immediate family and other relatives was evident as they watched their loved one succumb to illness was incredibly difficult for me as I did all I could to maintain a warm, compassionate yet professional approach. Observing professional caring staff who provided palliative care as they maintained a professional manner, knowing inside they were feeling deeply upset, was also incredibly difficult; I feel others things and it’s extremely difficult for me not to because even if I shut off my emotions in the moment they emerge with intensity later.

In the West dying and death is not openly talked about, we hide it as we do many other issues that remain in a closet of fear not to be spoken about then without warning what we fear most happens. And it is this feeling of fear which is why such topics as dying and death remain silenced but it lingers quietly driving us with notions of "life's too short" and "you've only one life". These are true statements of fact but we then go onto make unwise choices based on conditioning of infancy "waking up" hopefully when it isn't too late and realising that the life we have is based upon each moment and each breath. And then beginning to move into an appreciation of each breath and each inhale and exhale and realising that with this life we can live purposefully and more fully.

As a nurse I felt limited and constrained but as a therapist I felt I was able to offer much more. I was suffering the complications of mesh injuries but continued to work even though my mind was screaming stop and to aid myself I was utilising all I had available this included aromatherapy essential oils. Carrot seed, Parsley seed and other pungent aromatics were plied to my feet, undiluted, but with great effect. Now in aromatherapy we never use essential oils undiluted but so horrific was the pain I broke the golden rule. Fortunately I did not succumb to any ill effect other than more comfort in my body. As I went about my duties in a nursing home I never once thought that that others would be affected by the aromatic oils until one day a colleague pointed out that I always smelled so nice! Carrot and Parsley seed are not so nice as far as I am concerned – they are pungent!

Yet as I create the Aromatherapy courses I come to consider the palliative care of patients and how aromatherapy and touch could be of value to the patient and give family and relatives some reassurance their loved one is being supported to be as comfortable as possible as they transition through the stages of life to passing onto death. This prompted me to go and research and update my knowledge base and now share with students this section of learning. I had read research into the use of aromatic essential oils in the person with dementia in 2004; Melisa essential oil had shown good results in reducing the agitation of the patient group. Little other research was available at that time. But I know that my personal approach of a quiet, warm and friendly manner was received with smiles from patients and did not go unnoticed by a Grade 6 nurse manager who criticised and scolded me for this. It made no difference I continued to cultivate my manner and attitude as I would rather be approachable and supportive towards others.

Today there is an increase in the number of patients experiencing disease states such as cancer, dementia disease states, Parkinson’s and terminally ill. There are a number of factors that contribute to these diseases and most are brushed off and dismissed as nonsense and the focus is placed upon genetics or some other unclear cause. Here in the West the greatest cause of disease and illness is poor nutrition, poor hydration and insufficient activity, along with using alcohol, cigarettes, other substances, foods laced with chemicals and water that is polluted with chemicals – the water that comes through the taps in the UK is basically diluted bleach and if you have a sensitive sense of smell you can smell the chlorine and fluoride. And so the path of good health is to clean up the body by cleaning up the body, but also cleaning up the mind of out dated and limiting beliefs that are predicated on wrong information fed to us by the powers that be.

But for those who are sadly terminally ill we can now offer a more holistic approach to their treatment; in my nurse training holistic care was very much a medical based model and the nursing approach mostly followed Roper, Logan and Tierney’s Activities of Daily Living model of patient care. The patient at the centre of the multi-disciplinary team made up of Dr’s, nurses, physiotherapists, chemists, social worker, care support and anyone else that would play a part in the care of the person and the patient was involved to a degree in the choices of care but limited to a more “this is what is offered and we expect you to accept it”! For example treating anxiety was with medication, may be a Community Psychiatric Nurse to talk to but who the patient didn’t really connect with as the element of warmth was missing!

The approach embraced by the holistic therapist or Aromatherapist seeks to meet the persons physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being needs. Holistic and Complementary therapies are becoming more widely available and accessed to patients mentioned earlier. But there has been a change in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom as the medical profession conduct studies that are controlled and within the confines of accepted Gold Standard research.

In the next part of this series we will look at what is palliative care and why use Aromatic Essential oils in palliative care?

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