Casey House uses complementary therapy to enhance patient care


When treating people affected by HIV/AIDS, complementary therapies – such as massage and aromatherapy – predate the use of drugs. Casey House, one of the world’s first hospices for people with HIV/AIDS, provides a full-spectrum of care through a comprehensive range of palliative and supportive care services in their residential and community programs. Complementary therapies have been part of Casey House’s holistic approach to care since opening in1988.

Prior to the widespread use of more effective anti-retroviral therapies (ART), with protease inhibitors, which began circa 1995, people with HIV/AIDS were relying heavily on complementary therapies to help manage their symptoms and overall health. As a result, the demand for such treatments was driven by consumer need. Today, complementary therapies can be delivered in conjunction with drug medicines to help provide a more comprehensive care plan. Because of the severe, multiple side effects that result from long-term anti-retroviral drug therapies, the inclusion of massage and other complementary therapies is as important as ever to patient care and well-being.

“Complementary therapies are a great way to augment treatment, and go hand-in-hand with Western medicine,” says Diane McGuire, Casey House’s massage therapist for 17 years. “With clients living longer, due to the ARTs, but with more complicated side effects, things like massage help them cope with their long-term illness and assist with symptom management.”

Casey House offers complementary therapies, which include massage and aromatherapy (accompanied by music), which are available to clients both in the residential hospice and in the community programs. Clients also receive therapeutic touch, which is performed by trained RNs, volunteers, or by the family members of clients, who can be trained to perform this on their loved one. “A long term illness adds many stresses to our clients’ lives; among them are emotional issues (anxiety, depression), social isolation, and touch deprivation,” says McGuire. “There are also a host of side effects that result from their complex drug regimes such as gastrointestinal problems, musculoskeletal pain (joints and muscles) and neuropathic pain. Many clients also face the stress of housing issues and leaving the work force, due to their illness.”

“Therapeutic massage has become, for me, a wonderful gift,” says James Purchase, Casey House client. “When I was still working in a very high-pressure job, I was very conscious of the effects of stress on both my mind and body. Stress has a very pronounced negative effect on my immune system.” Since receiving regular massages from Diane at Casey House, Purchase feels he is better able to recognize tension and how to relax his body to overcome it. “I truly believe that regular therapeutic massage should be considered as important to a person’s health as any combination of modern drugs.”

The cumulative impact of a long-term illness and complex drug therapies can lead to a diminished quality of life for those affected by HIV/AIDS, and the use of complementary therapies is an important way to offer comfort to clients and enhance their care. Complementary therapies can also serve as a medium to teach clients skills that they can use to help improve their quality of life. For example, yoga breathing practice, which is also taught by McGuire to clients, as she is a certified yoga instructor, is a perfect example of giving clients tools to help them de-stress, that they can use anytime

Complementary therapies are administered to clients through Casey House staff, or they are referred to local fee for service complementary therapy service providers who specialize in modalities such as acupuncture, aromatherapy/massage, aquatic therapy massage, chiropractic, homeopathy, group or individual art therapy or meditation. Casey House clients can also access free complementary therapy programs offered at the Sherbourne Health Centre and the People With AIDS (PWA) Foundation. Consequently, the use of complementary therapy stretches across the AIDS community through these referrals and partnerships.

Funds raised by Casey House Foundation make the complementary therapy program possible for clients, and Casey House is proud to have included these therapies as an integral part of their interdisciplinary approach to care from the beginning. The inclusion of these therapies offers clients their treatment of choice and enables them to augment their treatment with more than just drug therapies. The use of complementary therapies also speaks to the hospice philosophy embraced at Casey House and the holistic approach of addressing the needs of the body, mind and spirit. Most important of all, complementary therapy allows for the provision of comfort to clients in all phases of their care and contributes to enhancing their quality of life.