Hospice and Holistic Therapies

Sometimes the Best Medicine Isn’t Medicine at All

In hospice, symptoms are often treated with medication or clinical therapies, but holistic therapies are often used to bring a higher quality of life to patients and enhance patient-centered care.

From pet visits and massage, to aromatherapy and Reiki, VITAS provides these specialized services to elevate our patients' hospice experience.


In Japanese, the word “Rei” means universal life and the word “Ki” means energy. Reiki therapy is based on the idea that all life has an energy field that flows through and around it. When this energy is low, a person can feel unwell or depressed. Reiki therapy improves the flow of energy to create feelings of peace, security and well-being.

The National Institutes of Health classifies Reiki as a biofield therapy. A biofield is the invisible energy field, often called an aura, which surrounds each of us to a depth of several inches. Reiki practitioners place their hands on or above the body within this biofield to increase energy flow.

Reiki promotes:

  • Relaxation
  • Management of pain
  • Release of anxiety, fear and grief
  • Positive emotional closure with loved ones¹

Reiki is especially beneficial to terminally ill patients and their caregivers. For patients whose skin may be too fragile or sensitive to touch, Reiki is a gentle therapy. Caregivers overwhelmed by the burden of care and those suffering from anticipatory grief can use Reiki to experience a deep calming of the body, mind and spirit.


There’s no doubt that smell has a powerful effect on the brain. Stimulating the sense of smell can also cause immediate physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, blood flow to the skin and more.

In studies done by the National Cancer Institute, aromatherapy for therapeutic use by critically ill patients helped improve their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Aromatherapy involves using essential oils—the volatile liquids extracted from plants—to impact the brain’s limbic system and its pathways to the emotions. When inhaled, these essential oils have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and analgesic effects.²

In a hospice setting, aromatherapy can:

  • Help control pain and nausea
  • Reduce stress, anxiety and agitation
  • Create an atmosphere of calm, comfort and peace

Essential Oils

Essential oils can be blended into lotions and creams and used to massage the body, hands and feet. They can be added to bed baths, placed in a diffuser, or applied to a cotton ball for inhalation by the patient.

Unlike traditional massage, palliative massage uses soft, gentle strokes to relax the muscles and calm the mind. It is a recognized method of tapping our emotional connection to achieve therapeutic goals. Palliative massage can impact the autonomic nervous system. For hospice patients, it can reduce and replace feelings of fear and anxiety with a sense of peace and positive well-being. Caregivers can benefit from palliative massage therapy as well. For both patients and their caregivers, benefits include:

  • Reducing swelling and the discomfort associated with it
  • Helping alleviate soreness
  • Easing stiff muscles to make movement more comfortable


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice based on the concept that interruptions in the flow of energy (chi) in the body can lead to pain and disease. Restoring proper flow of energy can reduce pain and improve quality of life.

Acupuncture acts directly on the central nervous system. Thin needles are inserted in strategic points along energy pathways. Research has found the practice stimulates the release of endorphins—the body’s natural opiates—and encourages the adrenal glands to release chemicals that modify the perception of pain. The tiny needles cause very little discomfort, the treatment is relaxing and safe, and no medications or chemicals are involved.

The benefits of acupuncture to hospice patients include:

  • Reducing pain
  • Reducing fatigue, nausea and vomiting
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Relieving depression
  • Relieving shortness of breath

VITAS and Holistic Therapies

If you or a loved one is a VITAS patient or caregiver and would be interested in using one of these holistic therapies, please ask a member of your team about its availability.



Call VITAS to learn more about hospice and palliative care options.


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