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Holistic care a viable supplement to modern medicine, not a replacement

Posted September 27, 2017 3:33 p.m. EDT

Dave Comer, a physician assistant at Cambridge Village retirement community in Apex, has witnessed a trend towards a holistic view of medicine, which he sees as having benefits for the senior population he serves.

This story was written for our sponsor, Cambridge Village of Apex.

The American Holistic Health Association defines holistic health care as "the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person -- body, mind, and spirit."

The purpose of holistic care is not just the treating and healing of diseases, the AHHA says, but also helping patients reach a place of "optimal health."

With Americans living longer and spending more on healthcare, health professionals say there is a need to consider different approaches to confront the changing landscape.

Holistic senior care

Dave Comer, a physician assistant at Cambridge Village retirement community in Apex, has witnessed a trend towards a holistic view of medicine, which he sees as having benefits for the senior population he serves.

"I think that modern medicine is moving more toward a holistic model, especially in primary care. However, modern medicine is still characterized by a narrow symptom-oriented approach," Comer said. "If a patient's blood pressure is elevated, we usually treat that person's blood pressure with a medication. Maybe we need to look a little further at why that person's blood pressure might be elevated."

In Comer's experience, patients may come in with a specific symptom, but with a holistic approach, he said it is key to "keep looking for the story behind the story."

Overall health

The body is a highly integrated synergy of systems, each having an effect on others. Doctors frequently tell their patients about basic health and wellbeing necessities like healthy eating, exercising, proper breathing and sleep.

A Centers for Disease Control-funded study, though, shows doctors are more likely to recommend diet and exercise to patients once the problems from a high-calorie diet and sedentary lifestyle have already become clear.

Holistic models try to preempt health problems before they develop by considering overall health.

"It is looking at a person as a whole, not just a set of problems to solve. It is asking them about their life, their kids, their nutrition, their exercise, their hobbies," Comer said. "It is understanding that a problem in one aspect of the body can affect another part of the body."

He added, "In order to understand a person from a holistic approach would require us to look at the physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, social and lifestyle influences of that person."

Comer is seeing the use of treatments like turmeric for inflammation and essential oils for therapeutic aromatherapy among his peers. Natural remedies can also prevent dealing with the high costs of pharmaceuticals and their possible side-effects, he pointed out.

A role to play in future health care

Advocates of holistic medicine like to point all the way to ancient Greece for the roots of the method.

Hippocrates is often called the father of modern medicine, but his approach is claimed by holistic health proponents, as well. This is because he focused on keeping overall health in tact so the body's natural ability to heal itself could emerge.

The idea of looking at the body as whole system has lasted to today and has modern advocates like the American Holistic Health Association, who focuses on "patient education and participation in the healing process."

The belief is that a patient must be a full participant in their own health and healing by taking a big picture approach, and that doctors need to encourage and educate them in this direction.

"It is looking at a person as a whole, not just a set of problems to solve," Comer explained.

This story was written for our sponsor, Cambridge Village of Apex.