What Is Holistic Health Care?

Senior man sitting on massage table with masseuse wondering what holistic health care isHolistic health care, also called holistic medicine or integrative medicine, is an approach to health management that focuses on the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions.

Holistic health care integrates complementary and alternative therapies with conventional medicine. Holistic practitioners affirm the role of conventional medicine but insist it is merely one aspect of whole-person health and, on its own, cannot result in optimal wellness. This is in contrast to alternative medicine practitioners, who provide a substitute for conventional medical care and don’t attempt to integrate the two approaches.

In addition to its whole-person orientation, other tenets of holistic medicine include a focus on natural healing and patient empowerment. The idea is to teach patients healthy habits of body, mind, spirit and emotions so that they become active agents in their own health and that wellness becomes an everyday pursuit.

Holistic medicine encompasses a diverse range of therapies. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine lists five major categories of holistic practice. They are:

  • Alternative Medical Systems, including homeopathic medicine and acupuncture. These systems evolved entirely separately from conventional medicine.
  • Mind-body Interventions, including aromatherapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, and arts-based therapies. These methods aim to help the mind improve bodily function and reduce symptoms.
  • Biologically-based Therapies, including nutritional supplements and restrictive diets. These therapies are designed to promote healing and boost the immune system.
  • Body-based Therapies, including massage, exercise and chiropractic. These therapies focus on the physical movement and manipulation of the body.
  • Energy Therapies have two main components: biofield therapies, such as therapeutic touch, which deal with energy fields around the body; and bioelectromagnetic-based therapies, such as magnet therapy, which manipulate electromagnetic fields.

Holistic Health Care in Assisted Living

Holistic health care is increasingly becoming mainstream and has become a more popular topic of discussion for senior living communities.   

How to safely and sustainably care for our elderly is a societal concern worldwide. In the U.S. alone, more than $151 billion was spent on long-term care just in 2012. As more research shows how safe and effective holistic therapy can be — particularly for exercise and diet interventions — and if they can be shown to improve outcomes at lower cost, expect to see rapid adoption throughout the long-term care industry.

A recent study in Minnesota sought to determine the efficacy of holistic medicine in the long-term care setting. It included three holistic practices deemed safest and most appropriate for an elderly population: acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage therapy.

The study found improvements in patients who underwent holistic treatments. They included a 15 percent reduction in self-reported pain and a 4 percent improvement in self-reported quality of life. 

In evaluating assisted living communities that offer holistic health care, it’s important to know that while there are national associations and certifications for individual holistic health care practitioners, there is no governing body that decides which assisted living communities can and can’t call themselves holistic. That puts the onus on consumers to do their research and know what they are looking for.

There are many factors to consider when choosing an assisted living community, including its commitment to holistic health care. Questions to ask when evaluating a facility’s holistic healthcare program include:

  • Do they make the resident feel like a partner — valued, respected, and informed?
  • Do they allow time for patients to educate themselves about their diagnosis before treatment begins? They should have informational resources on hand and allow patients time to educate themselves and give informed consent to any suggested therapies.
  • Is individuality taken into consideration when planning treatment? Individual wellness is a unique, personal journey, and residents should feel accepted no matter what transpires on their path or what decisions they make. The practitioners should respect each patient as an individual and not force anyone into a standardized treatment plan.
  • What does resident advocacy look like? Does the community identify ways to minimize medication use, and supplement interventions with treatments such as massage, aroma therapy, or other forms of holistic treatment?  

Holistic health care identifies ways to not only treat an ailment or disease but also to promote overall health and well-being in residents.  Assisted living communities that practice holistic health care advocate for their residents and identify ways for residents to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually satisfied with life.   

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