As baby-boomers near retirement age, and our population becomes distinctly more senior, more and more massage therapists find themselves working with elderly patients. But these older patients are by no means homogenous in terms of their health care needs, and motivation for seeking out massage. Advances in medical research have made aging in the 21st century quite different than what it was a mere generation ago. One might treat a 70 year old who regularly sky-dives, an 80 year old who takes dance lessons, or a senior who followers a rigorous exercise routine and needs relief from muscle tightness. At the same time, the registered massage therapist may find herself working with wheelchair-bound seniors, elderly patients with advanced arthritis – or a range of other conditions specifically associated with age. Massage therapists who focus on senior care are prepared for a wide range of client needs and understand how to modify their techniques to suit aging muscles and tissues. When administered effectively, massage can yield several benefits to seniors who strive to maintain the very best in quality of life.
As we age, maintaining balance and freedom of movement often becomes more challenging. And for seniors who want to stay mobile as long as possible, stability and range of motion are essential prerequisites to an active lifestyle. Massage therapy certification requires an in-depth understanding of the musculoskeletal system – the ways in which joints, bones, and muscles work together to promote and sustain healthy movement. And massage courses help students master the specific techniques associated with geriatric massage – gentle kneading, and lighter pressure – that can significantly reduce stiffness and enhance range of motion for older patients, helping them stay balanced and reducing the risk of falls. And of course, the freedom to pursue an active lifestyle reduces the likelihood of disease and increases opportunities for social participation, which in turn boosts quality of life.
For seniors who experience chronic pain, regular massage therapy can provide effective, non-chemical relief. Aging patients with ongoing medical conditions are typically dependent on several different prescription. Using massage to help manage the pain from arthritis for example, offers seniors a natural complement or alternative to pharmaceuticals while substantially improving discomfort due to inflammation. And geriatric massage is also helpful for addressing the more generic aches and pains commonly associated with aging, which can interfere with activity and with sleep.
Regular massage has been proven to increase circulation – a benefit of particular relevance to older patients who are confined to a wheelchair or suffer from conditions like diabetes that interfere with blood flow. In cases of reduced circulation, geriatric massage tends to focus on legs, feet and hands, helping to increase awareness, sensation and circulation in those parts of the body. For patients with diabetes, massage in conjunction with exercise can help prevent diabetic complications, such as ulcers and gangrene in the lower extremities. In addition to the many health benefits of massage for seniors – both highly active and mobility reduced – one cannot overemphasize the emotional impact of touch. The increase in wellbeing that comes from an effective massage has a ripple effect in the life of any patient, boosting positivity and energy levels for days after treatment.
What do you believe is the greatest benefit of massage for senior patients?