With age comes wisdom, as well as courage and fortitude; these traits are part of living a long and fruitful life. According to a 2014 US Census Bureau report, the number of senior citizens and elderly people in America is on the rise. In 2010, there were over 40 million people aged 65 and above, comprising 13 percent of the overall population. By 2050, projections indicate the population over 65 years old will comprise over 20 percent of the population.
Internal forces may strengthen as the physical exterior bears the signs that come with aging, and aches, pains and stiffness may put a damper on the quality of life. However, this is where massage can create a great benefit for the elderly.
Massage provides muscle relaxation, improves circulation, normalizes blood pressure, improves immunity, lessens pain, assists with mood management, and lessens social isolation and touch deprivation through mental and sensory stimulation. When working on elderly clients, massage therapists need to take extra special care of the body that is on their table. Licensed massage therapists should embrace the following five facets of safe integrative care of the elder client.
1) Awareness of the physiologic changes that come with aging.
According to the Administration on Aging, “Some type of disability (i.e., difficulty in hearing, vision, cognition, ambulation, self-care, or independent living) was reported by 36 percent of people age 65 and over in 2012.” People over 65 years of age can be at various points along the health continuum. Each individual receives a massage session that is geared towards the goals for the massage session, taking into account medical history and any accommodations that need to be made to create a safe environment for the client.
2) Importance of medical history.
Medical history sets the framework for safe knowledge. This is part of being accountable as a massage therapist. There may be medical conditions that can limit massage in a particular body part, or be a caution during the massage. For example, when a person is on blood thinners for a heart condition or blood clot, lighter pressure is advised. If the blood clot was in an extremity, that area would be avoided until cleared by a physician. People with diabetes need to inform their massage therapist of their condition as well. Massage can lower blood sugars, so diabetic clients need to be aware of this possibility and eat accordingly or bring a snack.
There are a number of frequently encountered medical conditions among the elderly which research has shown benefit from massage and improve overall health. These ailments include high blood pressure, chronic low back pain, joint stiffness, pain from osteoarthritis in the joints, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. With regular massage therapy, improved grip strength, flexibility, comfort, mood, and sleep have been reported in many research studies.
3) Adapting the environment to meet the needs of the client.
If the client has sensory deficits such as vision, hearing, or balance issues, the physical environment can be adjusted to ensure comfort and safety. Adequate lighting, clearing clutter, and perhaps adjusting the music volume to ensure clear communication during the session can be helpful in accommodating the client’s needs. The height of the table may be lowered to facilitate the transition from moving on and off the table. Assistive devices should be kept near the table for client ease in mobility. As elders have altered thermoregulation, the ambient room temperature should be monitored.
4) Adjusting the session structure based on client’s current medical condition.
Here is the art and the science of massage therapy. Depending on the current medical condition and level of physical ability, the length of the session, the selection of massage modalities, and the positioning of the client may be adjusted to meet the client where they are at. More mobile clients may require additional time to ready themselves for the massage or to re-dress after the massage. This additional time will need to be reflected in the client schedule. Perhaps the client is not able to tolerate more than a back or a hand massage due to physical, emotional or mental disabilities. Massage can be provided in chair or wheelchair. The session can be shortened without affecting the benefits massage can impart.
5) Practice presence and compassion.
Be aware of the power of touch and holding space for another. Loneliness, social isolation and sensory deprivation are among the challenges of the aging population. Touch is part of the hard wiring of the human being and many studies have documented negative effects of touch deprivation. As one ages and the opportunity for positive, intentional caring touch is less frequent, there is an innate part of oneself that still craves it, whether via a hug, a pat on the arm or a hand resting on the shoulder.
Touch conveys a sense of trust, hope, and reassurance. Touch can stimulate sensory connections that can bring one into the present moment, thereby assisting with reality orientation. The power of compassionate, intentional touch is priceless. The act of holding space, honoring the richness of experiences the client can bring to the exchange of energies, and being fully present for this individual creates the opportunity for enhanced health and wellness on an emotional and spiritual level.
Southwest Institute of Healing Arts offers on campus and online continuing education classes on Elder Touch and Elder Touch-Medical. These classes serve to deepen and expand the practitioner’s knowledge base through a holistic approach to massage therapy for this specific population. Please refer to our website to enroll in our next Elder Touch or Elder Touch - Medical course.
Call for an appointment to receive the healing power of massage therapy by contacting the Massage Clinic at 480-966-4425. You will be matched with the therapist to best meet your individual needs.
Make sure to also take advantage of SWIHA’s holiday Stocking Stuffer promotion! Beginning on December 15th, purchase a one hour massage from a student therapist at the SWIHA Massage Clinic for only $20! That’s almost 40 percent off the regular price! Click here for more information about SWIHA’s Stocking Stuffer special.