In massage school, we learned about the power of touch. Our instructor told us about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease who lived in a nursing facility. She had not spoken at all for a long time. One day, after receiving her first massage from a geriatric massage therapist, amazingly, she began to speak again. I always remembered that wonderful story which demonstrates the power of touch.
Older people may live alone, be infirm and immobile to some degree, or be isolated with other older and fragile people. Many people in this growing population may benefit greatly from and improve their quality of life with geriatric massage. Geriatric massage is a special method of massage therapy which is not usually taught in basic massage school.
The term “geriatric” usually refers to the general retirement age of 65 or older, but, fortunately, because of better health practices, many of us would not consider ourselves in those terms. However, as we age, our bodies change, muscle tissue decreases and tightens, skin becomes thinner, and even our blood circulation changes. Other health problems may occur, also. Fortunately, good nutrition, exercise, and massage can help to slow the aging process and keep seniors vital for many years.
Massage is effective at improving poor blood circulation, relieving muscle pain and inflammation, joint stiffness and mental stress and anxiety. All of these effects are scientifically explainable. Blood carries oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to every cell in the body and carries away cellular waste products. Therefore, improving blood flow will improve overall health. Massage helps anyone with circulatory problems to achieve improved blood flow to the cells.
Other benefits of massage may be increased kidney and liver function; deeper and easier breathing; calming of the nervous system, leading to deeper sleep; and production of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers), other hormones, and the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which aid in relieving depression and anxiety and promote a brighter outlook on life.
In addition, increased energy levels, a feeling of well-being and peace of mind, plus relief of loneliness and isolation are other positive effects of massage. It also satisfies the natural need to be touched by a caring hand.
Physical effects may include enhancing digestive functions, boosting immune system function, and improving lymph flow, which cleanses the body of waste products. By kneading sore and tight muscles and gently moving the joints, the natural range of motion of joints can be maintained.
Geriatric massage addresses the challenges of aging by helping seniors cope with age-related changes that may lead to many fears, frustrations, and losses. It helps the older population stay active, flexible, and meeting their need for social interaction and friendships.
A trained professional may work under the direction of the person’s physician if necessary.
“Some of the conditions for which massage has shown to be surprisingly successful,” writes Dr. Sharon Puszko, owner of Daybreak Geriatric Massage Institute in Massage for Seniors, “are in stroke rehabilitation, edema, blood circulation to the legs, Parkinson’s disease, as well as other health challenges.”
Dietrich Miesler, founder of the Geriatric Massage Institute, related in “How Karl Kept His Legs: A Case History,” his personal experience treating “Karl,” a 79-year-old man with severe pain in his legs and feet due to greatly impaired blood circulation in both lower legs, a heart condition, breathing problems, and a pre-gangrenous infected toe. Karl had been told by his doctor that an amputation of both legs above the knee was the only way to save his life.
Miesler, a certified massage therapist with an advanced degree in gerontology, treated Karl with specialized massage techniques three times a week starting in October of 1978. After the first treatment, Karl said his legs felt tingly; after the first week, the pain had lessened and he could sleep better. The toe also improved.
By January, his toe had healed and his legs had lost the discoloration and were improving steadily. The amputation was put on hold.
By June, they felt he was out of danger. Karl’s pulses had returned in his legs and they had become pink again. He could walk without a walker inside and outside with minimal assistance and the amputations were cancelled.
This is an amazing story of the healing ability of geriatric massage. Dietrich Miesler went on to develop the specialized techniques of geriatric massage and started the Day-Break Geriatric Massage Project in Germany in 1991.
Geriatric massage can be done in an office, the client’s home, a hospital, or nursing facility. A typical geriatric massage lasts 30 minutes, but may be longer depending on the client’s condition. The cost may range from $30 to $40 for 30 minutes. Some insurance companies may reimburse for it.
For more information, please visit www.daybreak-massage.com. There are some great videos of geriatric massage that you may enjoy watching as well as more information.
[Pritchard is a licensed massage therapist, certified Montessori teacher, nutritional counselor, R.N., and earned a Doctorate Degree in Naturopathy. She also is trained in reiki for animals. She lives on Ladson Road and can be reached at (contact information redacted).] ■
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