Over the years, we have found that the following benefits are commonly observed when the elderly receive regular massages as tactile therapy:
1. Relaxation and calm – one of the immediate benefits is a feeling of well-being and deep relaxation. We massage twice a week in a nursing home and one of the residents with dementia used to scream when we first began visiting. After a few sessions giving a gentle hand massage for 10 to 15 minutes, the nurses reported that she was much calmer and less agitated. This made their job easier as the lady was far more co-operative afterwards.
2. Reduced muscle pain and tension – Jenny, one of our MS clients, is wheelchair-bound but still able to work full time. We implement her treatment plan through a weekly home visit with the aim of working on her shoulders and arms to maintain function and mobility. She finds that headaches are eased and her range of motion is improved after her massages. We have also massaged many carers who are amazed how ‘de-stressed’ they feel afterwards.
3. Improved blood and lymph circulation – definite changes in blood chemistry have been observed, including an increase in the number of white and red blood cells. Stimulation of the circulatory and immune systems enables them to function more effectively. In other words, the fluids that carry waste products from and nourishment to all parts of the body move more efficiently.
4. Reduced anxiety and depression – a massage prompts the release of endorphins, the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that produce feelings of wellbeing. Levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine, are also reduced. It’s the same effect as eating chocolate, only healthier. Many of our carer clients suffer from depression and really look forward to their massage time.
5. Speedier healing of soft tissue injuries – recovery is accelerated when muscular tension, soreness, fatigue and pain are lessened. Muscle tone is improved through gentle stretching.
6. Heightened mental alertness – dementia is the most common ailment we come across and, although not scientifically proven, massage has a positive effect by reducing confusion and ‘awakening’ the client to the here and now. This can be a huge temporary relief for caregivers and other family members. Massage can’t fix many conditions, but it can alleviate the symptoms and provide a better quality of life.
7. Social interaction – this cannot be understated. We often massage the isolated and lonely. Michael (one of our MS clients) called his massage “the highlight of his week.” Oftentimes, the massage is merely the vehicle to re-connect with people missing a sense of community.
8. Enhanced digestive and respiratory processes – massage normalises the heart rate, helping clients to breathe more naturally and efficiently. Digestion becomes more effective.
9. Better sleep – when the body relaxes the mind rests, and sleep is often the end result. It’s re-assuring to see, but challenging to have to peel a sleeping client off the massage table when they just want to stay there.
10. The power of touch – the life-enhancing benefits of touch are too frequently denied the elderly in our culture. There is a huge difference between the probing of medical attention and that of a therapeutic touch. Tactile needs do not change with age and we have repeatedly seen how one on one time works wonders for overall mood and outlook.