Beyond Pain Relief: Non-Pharmacological Care Activities in Palliative Care

Professionals who care for people at the end of life do much more than prescribe drugs, a new study has shown. The qualitative analysis published last month in the journal PLoS Medicine revealed that the day-to-day activities of palliative caregivers throughout Europe are highly multifaceted and complex.

The study used qualitative research methods to identify types of Non-Pharmacological Caregiving Activities (NPCAs) undertaken at 16 different palliative care facilities in nine countries. The responses clearly indicated that the respondents undertook a huge variety of activities which went beyond pharmacological interventions.

The most common NCPA was carrying out or abstaining from bodily care or contact, with many respondents reporting holding hands to provide emotional support as well as maintaining the patient’s oral hygiene.

Somewhat surprisingly, another frequently reported activity was “creating an aesthetical, safe and pleasing environment”, which included applying perfume, making sure there is pleasant lighting, repositioning pictures so that they are visible to the patient and playing the patient’s favourite music. Respondents also indicated that they often provided support not just for the patient but for their loved ones, offering professional advice as well as practical assistance (such as arranging for medical equipment to be removed from the house so that they don’t have to see it after the patient has died).

Whilst the varied nature of palliative care may be obvious to those who work within the field, it is not always apparent to outsiders, and this paper paves the way for future research into the frequency and efficacy of NCPAs.