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The Value of Creative Flair in Hospice Care

23/11/2015 15:35 GMT | Updated 20/11/2016 10:12 GMT

At first glance many people may not readily associate creativity, or indeed the arts, with end of life care.

When someone is facing death - whether within months or weeks - the arts could, perhaps understandably, be viewed as peripheral to the care they receive.

However, I was reminded again of the importance and value of creativity and the arts in hospice care, after recently attending Hospice UK's annual conference- the Art and Science of Hospice Care

In fact, if you look back at the history of how hospices first began, creativity is embedded in the hospice sector's DNA.

Hospice care was a pioneering form of care developed in the 1960s, which sprang from a creative response to shocking deficits in care for people facing the end of life.

To this day hospices continue to build on their history of creativity and innovation, evolving and adapting their services to meet the different and changing needs of the people they support.

This includes the use of arts-based therapies which are a valuable, yet sometimes overlooked, strand of hospice care.

Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, coined the term "total pain". Based on her experiences caring for dying people, she became acutely aware they needed more than just clinical care.

She knew it was important their spiritual, social and psychological needs were supported as well.

"I realised that we needed not only better pain control but better overall care. People needed the space to be themselves," she said.

There is no doubt that the arts - whether music, poetry or painting - can give everyone "the space to be themselves" but perhaps especially people at the end of life who are experiencing huge physical and emotional challenges.

The value of the arts and a creative approach to care was illustrated at our conference where, as well as many workshops and lectures on the latest clinical service innovations, there was a strong creative vein running through the three day event.

During a song-writing workshop, led by hospice music therapist Bob Heath, we learned about the considerable power of music therapy which can offer a comforting form of self-expression for terminally ill people, when other forms of communication are often just too difficult.

Bob spoke movingly about the positive impact of music therapy on the people he worked with.

He visited one terminally ill man each week who liked singing. Bob would accompany him and the man would improvise in line with the music, creating lyrics about his love for his wife.

It was an important way for him to express his feelings about his wife- something, we later learned, he found it hard to do in person.

The rich creative vein running through our annual conference was expressed in many other different ways.

This included plenty of "story-telling" - where hospice staff shared inspirational stories people who had benefitted from hospice care, which were woven through all the main plenaries.

There were some arresting angel sculptures on display - the Ramryge Angels - six perspex angels representing the five stages of bereavement: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, plus a final stage of peace.

There was also an uplifting performance by Maggie's Choir and a giant colourful mosaic of a sunflower- the symbol of hospice care - to which all delegates attending the conference were encouraged to make their contribution.

The importance of creativity and the arts in hospice care was highlighted in several presentations.

One compelling session entitled "The Science of Art" by Nigel Hartley chief executive of Earl Mountbatten Hospice, who was a trained musician and music therapist before moving into end of life care, spoke about the value of an arts background and creativity in a hospice leadership role.

He highlighted how creative individuals can contribute to the development of hospice care in many ways, for example through their ability to spot new connections and patterns and their vision for new possibilities.

The arts are of course just one part of hospice care's holistic offering of different services but, as highlighted at our conference, they are an increasingly important strand.

The power of words, music and the arts can be very freeing for people receiving hospice care, nurturing self-expression, promoting emotional and psychological wellbeing and ultimately enabling people to enjoy the fullness of life before death.

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