Hospice Massage | The Three Big FAQs

By Jennifer Shaw, Austin Massage Therapist and Guest Blogger

1. What is Hospice Care?

Hospice is “(a)n interdisciplinary program of palliative care and support services that address the physical, spiritual, social and economic needs of terminally ill patients and their families,” as defined by Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. The idea of hospice for the terminally ill comes from England. The foundational philosophy was, and still is, humanitarian. As the patients reach a point in their illness from which they are not to believed to be able to recover, medically, the focus of care shifts to making the patient’s life as comfortable – bearable, essentially.

One of the first American hospices was founded by Kaiser Permanente. Permanente’s work was instrumental in helping pave the way for hospice care and its acceptance in the American healthcare system.

2. How can massage therapy help in Hospice Care?

According to Dietrich W. Miesler, MA, CMT in his article Massage in Hospice Care, says “Touch has been known to create a rise in blood pressure of people in a deep coma and to penetrate the nonverbal state of late stage Alzheimer’s patients who, suddenly during a massage, may blurt out a sentence like, ‘Oh, this feels good,’ only to return immediately into their silent world.”

Massage therapy has also been cited to reduce the need for pain medication and reduce anxiety. According to a study performed in 2005 by The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, patients reported a 52% reduction in pain scores and experienced similar improvements in anxiety and peacefulness. This study’s findings applied to patients with cancer as well as other terminal conditions.

“When you think about the death process, there are three things that people facing death are psychologically processing,” said massage therapist and nurse Valerie Hartman. “Letting go of attachments in this life, trying to move through the death process without loss of dignity, and moving into the afterlife or whatever they perceive to come after life.”

3. What type of massage therapy is appropriate for Hospice Care patients?

With these patients, massage therapists should emphasize geriatric massage techniques focused on the reduction of pain as opposed to techniques drawn from deep tissue work or acupressure. It is important to note while the treatment is best approached by an experienced massage therapist, it is also important that family members be trained to participate in the physical care of the patient as it relates to touch. Teaching caregivers a few massage-inspired, light-touch techniques would enhance to the caring and social aspect of the visits with the hospice patient. With some guidance, family members may be less fearful of touching their ailing loved and even offer them some relief between massage therapy sessions.


Massage in Hospice Care by Dietrich W. Miesler, M.A., C.M.T.

The Challenges and Rewards of Hospice Massage by Phyllis Hanlon

Implementation of a Massage Therapy Program in the Home Hospice Setting by Joseph P. Polubinski, PhD and Laurie West