Hospital uses human touch to aid end-of-life patients

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COLUMBIA – When patient Deanna Dikeman needed some extra care after undergoing surgery, she found she didn’t need to look any further than massage treatments at Boone Hospital.

 "I got actively involved in the choices of my treatments. I decided I was going to be a survivor,” Dikeman said.

Dikeman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and had a mastectomy shortly after. During her recovery, she found she couldn’t lift her arm due to lymphedema, a condition of swelling in the lymph nodes. She then started massage therapy with one of the two licensed massage therapists on staff at Boone Hospital Center. 

“At first I thought it was just massage, but then I realized that there was healing and there was visualization and there was positive imagery and there were a lot of things I could do to promote healing and well-being,” Dikeman said.

Since 2005, Boone Hospital has included massage therapy as part of its' supportive care program. While supportive care typically refers to patients needing end-of-life care, it also applies to patients with any life-altering illness, such as cancer, diabetes, congestive heart failure, COPD or kidney disease, according to Doreen Rardin, coordinator of the Supportive Care Program at Boone Hospital

While other supportive care therapies exist, such as art, music or pet therapy, Rardin said massage therapy is extremely beneficial because of the personal connection between the patient and massage therapist.

“It provides most of all that compassionate presence that all of our patients who are frightened, concerned, scared or dying really want somebody there with them,” Rardin said.

Massage therapy has become a standard in end-of-life care because of its effectiveness in relieving anxiety, pain, and discomfort, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

According to a study by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, about 52 percent of patients felt a decrease in pain after undergoing massage therapy and reported an improvement in their overall anxiety and peacefulness.

“You can feel the positive energy from her intentions touch your skin and go into you. If you are willing to receive that, I think you are getting some positive healing energy that your body can use to help you,” Dikeman said.

For the nurses, providing therapy and emotional support for patients in supportive care can get personal.

“I had an experience with a brother who died a very horrific, terrible death and it prompted me to recognize the fact that people shouldn’t have to die that way,” Rardin said.

While insurance doesn’t always cover this type of care, about one-fourth of Medicare spending on health care is for services provided to those ages 65 and older in their last year of life. Boone Hospital Center doesn't want money to be a reason for not receiving care, according to Barb Danuser, the executive director of the Boone Hospital Foundation.

The Boone Hospital Foundation helps provide free massages for those in supportive care, through public donations. The foundation steps in and pays for the massages if they're not covered under the hospital's cost, according to Danuser.

“Sometimes medicine is just not enough for a patient to feel comfortable, but that massage is so beneficial to them. So one of the things the foundation believes in is to try to provide the extras to the patients at Boone,” Danuser said.

In 2015, the foundation provided more than 500 free massages for patients. The foundation is hosting a golf tournament May 9 to raise money to continue massage therapy at Boone Hospital.