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A quick guide to alternative and complementary therapy
Taking a different approach
Alternative and complementary therapies are increasing in popularity, with independent studies finding there are short-term and long-term benefits for certain conditions. However, most professional scientific bodies don’t recognise many as official forms of treatment. Given this, therapies are worth researching in detail before deciding whether you should introduce one into your care home.
There’s an important distinction between alternative and complementary therapy. Alternative therapy is used in place of a traditional means of treatment or medicine, whereas complementary therapy supports alongside a traditional method.
Residents may wish to opt for a therapy for a number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t agree with or don’t want the treatment a doctor has recommended, or they have tried the treatment but aren’t satisfied. They might be on a waiting list for treatment but wish to try to relieve symptoms as soon as possible. The therapies can also be used to make the resident feel more in control with their situation or raise spirits and maintain hope.
Types of alternative and complementary therapies
There are various types of therapy. Many are not available through the NHS so they will need to be organised privately. You can find registered complementary therapists through the UK’s voluntary regulator website, the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council. However, a wider internet search will result in plenty of local and national alternative and complementary therapists. Here are a few examples of therapies and their benefits:
Music therapy is an alternative therapy that uses music to help express emotions and physical movement. It has shown to significantly improve the mental wellbeing and moods of residents – especially those living with dementia by provoking a feeling of nostalgia. It has proven to help increase communication and memory, as well as reducing agitation, apathy and anxiety.
Animal and Pet therapy uses live-in or visiting animals to engage residents. It falls into both the alternative and complementary therapies, depending on what you would like to achieve. Residents are encouraged to touch, hold, play with, exercise with or care for them to create a sense of responsibility and routine. Different animals can be used, including dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, alpacas and horses. Animals and pets can provide comfort, confidence, promote movement and much more.
Massage therapy and the Bowen technique are complementary therapies that both involve touch. They are used to increase blood circulation, reduce muscle tension, relieve stress and provide human contact which can help depression and loneliness. These would be examples of activities an individual can immediately start doing to relieve symptoms whilst on a waiting list for treatment.
Art therapy is an alternative therapy, utilising a range of creative outlets, like drawing, painting, music, dance and literature to help people express themselves mentally and physically. Great for both individual and group activities, art promotes self-awareness and communication, reduces stress and anxiety and improves coordination and cognitive function.
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy that uses natural plant and flower extracts in the form of essential oils to help reduce pain, anxiety, depression and improve mood, sleep and circulation. Typically, the oils are smelled, breathed or absorbed through the skin to take effect. However, there are several common conditions that prevent people from undergoing this therapy which will need to be checked in advance with the therapist
Choosing any therapy comes with risks and thorough assessments should be carried out beforehand to determine if residents could be at harm. For example, is anyone at your home allergic to animals, will some people find it challenging to handle paint supplies or dance, is anyone frightened easily by loud noises, or does anyone have breathing difficulties?
If all safety measures are considered there should be no concerns, but also no guarantee that alternative or complementary therapies will have the desired effect. If you’re thinking of introducing a therapy into your care home as a group activity, at the very least it can be used to give resident an engaging, fun and rewarding experience.
When organising a group activity, ensure everyone is comfortable being involved or it could result in a negative experience. Residents who don’t want to participate can feel left out or they might not find it to be fulfilling, which can lead to mental health problems if unchecked.
Except for osteopathy and chiropractic treatments, there isn’t a professional statutory regulator for alternative and complementary therapies, meaning anyone can practice them without needing to be qualified or experienced. It’s a good idea to ask plenty of questions when deciding on a therapist: What are the side effects? Do the residents need to do anything to prepare? Is it safe for everybody? Do they have references? Do they have proof of qualifications?
Only the beginning
Although not all therapies are officially recognised as approved treatments, benefits of engaging and stimulating activities are becoming more widely accepted. It’s through trying and testing new ideas that they gain credibility. All treatments have to begin somewhere – some will be successful and of course some will fail. At this stage, the future looks positive for many forms of alternative and complementary therapies.
When considering which one to try, you should first have a goal in mind that you want to achieve, then proper research is needed into each method and their benefits. If due diligence is carried out and everyone involved is happy to take part, there is little-to-no risk. Many therapists will even travel to you, making for an easy, enjoyable experience in the comfort of your own care setting.
In CareDocs, you can create comprehensive care plans for many of the conditions that therapies are used to help treat. You also have the option to record notes for events and activities, such as the therapy sessions, to keep logs of how residents respond physically and emotionally. You can then use these notes to compare behaviour, mood and progress to see if the therapies are having the desired effect.
To find out more about care plans and recording activities, please contact our friendly support team today 0330 056 3333 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council:
Dementia UK (music therapy):
Good Therapy (art therapy):
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