BLOG Living well with a terminal illness

June 2021


Being diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness is a life changing experience. The wellbeing of patients and their carers is an important part of the specialist care delivered by Prospect Hospice.

To link with World Wellbeing Week (21-30 June), occupational therapist Zoe O’Reilly (pictured) talks about the work of the hospice’s therapy team in helping patients to live well.


Preparing the vegetables for your Sunday roast or potting plants for your garden might seem straightforward tasks, but if you experience breathlessness or fatigue they can be extremely difficult or even impossible.

Fatigue is a common symptom for patients with terminal or life-limiting illnesses and when you have got no energy it’s really hard to do anything.

We teach patients strategies to manage fatigue by focusing on what they want to do and using their energy in a different way, so instead of standing up to prepare the vegetables for a Sunday roast maybe they can do it sitting down at the kitchen table. The same can be applied to doing some gardening tasks.

Changes like this can have a positive impact on people’s ability to carry on doing the things they want to do and can improve their ability to manage their symptoms, which in turn can help their wellbeing.

Our approach at Prospect Hospice is patient-centred. We ask patients what is important to them and our physiotherapists and occupational therapists work with them to identify how we can best support them through the challenges they face in their illness.

A patient who was in our inpatient unit wanted to be able to drive his car one more time and we were able to help him achieve that.

For patients living at home they might want to be able to continue to wash and dress themselves, be able to get up from their chair easily or walk up and down their stairs.

A way of helping them to remain as independent as possible is to use equipment such as a bath board for them to sit on while taking a shower, raising the height of their chair or putting in an additional banister rail on their stairs.

Equipment like this can make a big difference in conserving energy and help a patient have enough energy for the rest of the day.

There’s a lot of evidence that increased activity is good for patients with fatigue and breathlessness. A slight increase in their activity level that they have control over can make them feel more energised.

We also offer a range of complementary therapies to help patients relax and promote a sense of wellbeing. Often these therapies are a completely new experience for them and they find them beneficial.

The therapies include Reiki and the ‘M’ Technique and they are given by qualified practitioners who volunteer their services.

With Reiki our therapist will place their hands either on or just above certain points of your body to channel energy and to help you achieve improved balance in mind, body and spirit. The M technique is a light massage on hands and feet.

We also offer complementary therapies to the carers of patients and bereaved relatives of patients to help their wellbeing.

Jean Wilson, volunteer complimentary therapist

The patients we support have a variety of illnesses and conditions including cancer, motor neurone disease, end stage heart failure, end stage renal failure, chronic lung disease and dementia.

As a team our aim is to support patients manage their symptoms as best as possible through a mixture of practical advice, therapies and emotional support.

Living well is also about preparing for a good death. If a patient wants to die at home we will work with our specialist clinical nurses and colleagues in the hospice’s Prospect@Home service to ensure the right support and equipment is in place.

Helping our patients to live well and make the best of the time they have left is so rewarding.


Zoe O’Reilly is an occupational therapist and has worked at Prospect Hospice in a number of roles since 2006, most recently as the day therapy service lead.


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