Massage therapist

A massage therapist works on the feet of a terminally ill resident of the Hospice of Saint John on August 20, 2009 in Lakewood, Colorado. (John Moore, Getty Images)

The availability of complementary and alternative approaches varies widely from facility to facility and region to region, and hospices are more likely to offer the therapies than hospitals.

A 2011 survey conducted by the American Hospital Association found that 42 percent of U.S. hospitals offer one or more CAT services, including acupuncture, homeopathy, massage therapy and herbal medicine. That statistic is up from 37 percent of hospitals in 2007.

But if you're caring for a patient at a hospital without CAT staffing on site, your options are likely slim.

"Hospitals tightly control who practices there with very restrictive credentialing requirements," Storey says. "This may limit their liability for mishaps, but it severely restricts access to complementary and alternative medicine therapies. Even if you wanted to pay privately for a complementary or alternative therapy you would likely not be able to get it in a (restrictive) hospital."

Families should be proactive in broaching the topic though, regardless of the setting, Storey says.

"Hospitals can get narrowly focused on surgery and intensive care, as they should," he says. "But it's good for families to know what's available and ask for additional help, particularly in areas where we know alternative therapies are most effective."

And if families don't get anywhere in the hospital, they can consult with their dying loved one's doctor about a possible transition to hospice.

The mind-body connection, after all, is a critical one to honor at the end of life.

"There's so much anxiety, fear of what's coming next, possibly regrets about your life," McKeown says. "Anything that helps your body, not just for one hour, but to keep your mind and body in the present and accept what's to come can really help people face those final days with more strength and peace and calm."

hstevens@tribune.com