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Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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Massage Therapy for Hospice Care in Kansas City


Massage Therapy for Hospice Care in Kansas City

A patient in a hospital bed. Medical massage is often performed in hospitals.

Massage therapy for patients in hospice care is a compassionate and holistic approach to providing comfort and relief to individuals at the end of their life. 

I have had the great honor of working with many California and Kansas City clients in their homes and care facilities once the agonizing decision to enter hospice has been made. 

My goal as a massage therapist is to enhance the quality of life for these patients, offering physical and frequently emotional support during this painful transition. These clients are often experiencing pain in their muscles and joints as a result of immobility on top of the pain of their underlying conditions. Too often, these clients only experience physical touch during routine nursing duties, such as bed-rolling, repositioning, placement of IVs, and vital stats checks.

Importance of Physical Touch

Physical touch holds profound significance in human interactions and is essential for emotional and physical well-being. It is crucial in fostering connections, promoting empathy, and conveying emotions. The act of touching someone can convey messages well beyond verbal communication. Support, warmth, understanding, acceptance, and trust can all be transmitted to a hospice patient desperate to be supported, understood, and accepted. 

Touch has been scientifically proven to have a calming effect on the nervous system. When we experience physical contact, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and promote over all well being. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone.”  Our bodies actually crave this hormone in times of distress.

Massage as a Complementary Holistic Therapy for Hospice Patients

When a patient enters hospice care, often all other treatments, therapies, and doctor or specialist visits simply stop.

Patients with major medical and terminal conditions have been hyper-focused on actively working to reverse symptoms and disease progression, often for years. This is in addition to the usually lengthy amount of time spent just trying to get a diagnosis. 

In addition to the actual benefits of “alternative” therapies, such as, aromatherapy, music therapy, acupuncture, and guided meditations, holistic treatments can help fill the void felt by patients when the sudden cessation of “things to do and appointments to keep” becomes overwhelming. 

I often schedule hospice clients at the same time as a physical therapy or other holistic provider appointments to gain insight into exactly what issues are being addressed. I am able to adapt my techniques to the unique needs of each patient. This personalized approach ensures the massage is safe and highly effective.

Massage Therapy in a Home Hospice Situation

It takes an average of one year to receive a diagnosis of ALS. While some people are in hospice care for a matter of a few days, the average duration is just over two months.

Benefits of Massage Therapy in a Hospice Setting

The effects and benefits of massage therapy in a healthy population are widely known. There are some specific benefits that are especially important for clients in hospice care. 

  • Pain Relief: Massage therapy can help alleviate pain by promoting the release of endorphins and reducing muscle tension. Patients who are immobile or have atrophied muscles are especially prone to tremendous pain from staying in one position for extended amounts of time.
  • Reducing Anxiety and Depression: The compassionate touch of a skilled massage therapist can help reduce anxiety and depression in hospice patients. The emotional relief can improve their overall outlook on life.
  • Improved Circulation: Better circulation can help prevent bedsores and improve general well-being.
  • Enhanced Body Awareness: For some patients, massage therapy provides an opportunity to reconnect with their bodies and experience a sense of control and comfort in their physical experience.
  • Improved Communication: Massage therapy can offer an opportunity for patients who may have difficulty communicating verbally to express their needs, comfort levels, and preferences through non-verbal cues.
  • Enhancing Sleep Quality: Hospice patients often struggle with sleep disturbances. Massage therapy promotes relaxation and can improve the quality and duration of sleep, which is vital for their comfort and overall health.
  • Enhanced breathing: Some hospice patients experience difficulties in breathing due to conditions such as congestive heart failure or lung disease. Massage therapy can help ease respiratory issues by reducing tension in breath-assisting muscles, improving lung function.

Family and Caregiver Support

There is an unbelievable amount of stress, physical and emotional pain, and associated ailments that goes along with providing end of life care for another person. When a loved one enters hospice care, their families and caregivers are often “on duty” 24 hours a day. This is especially true when the decision is made for end of life care undertaken in the patient’s home. 

It is vitally important for caregivers to avoid burnout or “care fatigue.” Usually when I am working with a client, family members are able to take a break to shower, eat, run errands, nap, or otherwise simply “check out” for an hour or more. These little breaks can help alleviate some stress and revitalize caregivers.

When I’ve traveled to a client’s home for hospice massage appointments, I’ve brought along all of my supplies, including a massage table. It is not unusual for a caregiver to schedule their own massage appointment after my visit with their loved one. I’m often reminding them to practice frequent self-care since one can not share from an empty cup! 


Less-Quantifiable Benefits to Having a Massage Therapist on a Hospice Team

Outside of the scientific benefits of massage, I’ve personally observed that there are many additional benefits to having a massage therapist on a hospice team that are harder to measure. 

  • Routine and Consistency: Hospice patients often face uncertainty and anxiety about their condition. Establishing a regular massage appointment routine can provide a sense of predictability and stability. It can provide something to look forward to once a week (or more frequently). Hospice care organizations often have a rotating schedule for their nurses to visit clients, meaning that it isn’t the same nurse every day or every appointment. Having a consistent caregiver who has learned the patient’s habits and needs can make treatments more effective and can lead to more specific and focused care.
  • Third-party Observation: A massage therapist who is not related to the patient or their caregivers can often see subtle changes in behavior or physical conditions that a person spending 24 hours a day with the patient do not notice. With frequent appointments, trends can be documented and communicated with the rest of the hospice team. 
  • Networking and Referrals: When a massage therapist works alongside other care providers, it becomes possible to provide referrals and suggestions to other therapists or disciplines with which we have personal knowledge. I have a vast network of physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, support groups, counselors, attorneys, and even financial planners that I’ve met in my dealings with patients in hospice care. It’s like being in an exclusive club that no one ever wants to have to join. 

Booking Aaron Harris, BCTMB for Hospice Care in Kansas City

If you would like to add me to your hospice care team in the Kansas City area, there are few administrative questions that you will need to answer first.

Does your hospice team already contract with a massage therapist? There are a few who do, though many have yet to adopt this practice. Ask them! 

Is your hospice organization paying for appointments? Some patients elect to work with an organization that manages and schedules all providers and bills insurance or responsible parties as a collective. If your organization is handling these details, please have them contact me directly. I do have a National Provider Identification (NPI) number that allows insurance reimbursements for plans that provide massage therapy coverage.

Are you self-paying for the appointments? If so, it’s very simple to get started, simply book an appointment for a Medical Massage and provide the necessary details on the intake form. I’ll come to the first appointment with a bunch of medical-related questions to get the specifics about under-lying conditions, do a detailed assessment, and make recommendations on frequency and duration of services. 

 I am not currently exclusively contracted or affiliated with any specific hospice organization. There are many such organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area that do wonderful work. 

Here are a few recommendations:

Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care

Three Oaks Hospice in Kansas City

Crossroads Hospice – Kansas City

More to explore...

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