Because some older adults may be widowed, socially isolated or dealing with restrictive health issues, they may miss out on regular human touch, such as a warm hug, rocking a grandchild to sleep, or walking hand in hand with a loved one.
“The social aspect is one of the main benefits of geriatric massage, particularly for seniors with limited social interaction,” says Nicole Joy, a certified geriatric massage therapist at Think Whole Person Healthcare in Omaha, Nebraska. “Many times a day I hear from my older clients, ‘Oh, I have not been touched in so long.’ The loving touch that goes along with therapeutic touch is immensely powerful.”
A licensed massage therapist for more than 20 years, Joy completed training and earned a certification in geriatric massage through Day-Break Geriatric Massage Institute. Massage techniques for elders can include traditional deep tissue massage, shiatsu and trigger point therapy, but the massage pressure would be light to medium compared to modalities used on individuals with more active muscle tissue.
How Geriatric Massage Differs From Other Types of Massages
Geriatric massage aims at improving specific aging health conditions, such as stiff muscles, limited mobility and chronic pain. As mature skin contains less moisture and is more susceptible to bruising and tearing, geriatric massage therapists use soothing, gentle strokes and mild stretching instead of standard massage pressure. Sessions also are usually shorter, lasting about 30 minutes.
Professional therapists take a senior’s health contraindications into consideration and use special techniques suitable for each client. For example, people with painful arthritis or spinal problems require special attention during massage treatments. Therapists may assist older clients with undressing and dressing, adjust the height of the massage table for easy on-off access, or adapt massage methods for clients who are confined to a wheelchair or bed, or who are at the end of life.
Unlike their younger counterparts who are stressed and just want their muscle knots worked out, some elders may bring a separate set of emotional and communication needs to their sessions. “A caring massage therapist will politely engage with elderly clients without judgement or a rush to end a conversation,” says Joy. “After a massage, my elder clients hug me saying, ‘Thank you so much. You make me feel so much better. I look forward to this.’ I have seen so much positivity and happiness come from my older clients. They deserve human touch, and they deserve to relax — in fact, maybe more so than any age population.”
Benefits of Geriatric Massage
The overall health benefits from geriatric massage are profound. It improves circulation, joint flexibility, muscle tone and strength, and the quality of sleep. Massage for elders also reduces pain and swelling, lowers blood pressure, and decreases stress, fear and anxiety. Greater social interaction enables the release of endorphins and strengthens a sense of well-being.
Joy added that gentle lymph massage and reflexology are a plus for older adults, as these techniques stimulate lymphatic system functions, cleansing the body of toxins and helping safeguard against disease. She also notices that elders with cognitive decline from dementia and Alzheimer’s seem to re-engage with the world during and after their massage sessions.
The Compassionate Touch® program designed by Age-u-cate® Training Institute combines “skilled touch and specialized communication” as a non-pharmacological, person-centered approach to connect caregivers with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Our Right at Home Boston-North offices is one of the thirty-three coaches from 28 Right at Home offices across the country that currently offer the program. The program at our office is offered to our caregivers as part of their on-the-job training. Caregivers are taught to incorporate Compassionate Touch into their dementia and hospice care services, enhancing the quality of care and deepening the relationship between caregivers and dementia patients. To learn more about our compassionate touch program please visit our program page. However, before trying massage, seniors should always consult with a physician to learn if massage is appropriate for their bodies, especially for those who are recovering from a heart or stroke incident.