Massage therapy is a valued component of hospice care, for both caregivers and patients at the end of life; in fact, research has shown massage creates a sense of inner peace for hospice patients, can improve patients’ quality of life and symptom distress, and helps console bereaved caregivers.

A new study shows that cancer patients who die in a hospital or intensive-care unit have worse quality of life at the end of life compared to patients who die at home with hospice services.

The study was conducted by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Researchers also found that hospitalized patients’ caregivers are at higher risk for developing psychiatric illnesses, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), during bereavement than are home-care caregivers, according to a Harvard press release.

“This is the first study to show that caregivers of patients who die in ICUs are at a heightened risk for developing PTSD,” wrote the authors, led by Alexi Wright, M.D., a medical oncologist and outcomes researcher at Dana-Farber. The American Medical Association Glossary defines PTSD as “feelings of anxiety experienced after a particularly frightening or stressful event, which include recurring dreams, difficulty sleeping and a feeling of isolation.”

“In contrast to home or hospice care that emphasizes alleviating pain and discomfort and providing a peaceful death, ICU care can be traumatic for patients and their family and caregivers,” said Wright, the press release noted. For example, families and loved ones of patients who died in the hospital, though not in an ICU, were at higher risk of developing Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD), an intense and disabling form of grief which lasts more than six months.

This was a prospective, longitudinal study of advanced cancer patients recruited at seven cancer centers from 2002 to 2008.

Related articles:

Massage Creates “Inner Peace” for Hospice Patients

Massage Therapy Benefits Hospice Patients, Caregivers

New Research: Hand-and-Feet Massages Console Bereaved Relatives

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