As a lawyer who makes frequent nursing home visits, I’m still amazed by the impersonality of it all – the blipping machines; the scary tubes; the bland, institutionalized food. I’ve always felt a profound sense of isolation during these visits – a fraction of what nursing home patients must feel on a daily basis.
While medicine and machines might not go away anytime soon, I’m encouraged by the growth of another, more gentle, healing modality: massage for seniors.
In a recent Chicago Tribune article, called “Thriving Through Touch,” several massage experts say seniors experience dramatic emotional boosts from massage.
“We know that just the touching of a person to another person, just the warmness, creates a sense of calmness and security,” said Tara Cortes, executive director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University.
Massage also helps seniors get physically stronger: touch stimulates special receptors under the skin, which reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
But best of all is the fact that massage can be safely administered by loved ones, in an atmosphere of trust and caring. With just a bit of patience and learning, family members can master basic skills.
Sharon Pusczko, owner of the Day-Break Geriatric Massage Insitute in Indianapolis, offers the following beginning exercises for family members:
- Arms: Wrap both of your hands around your loved one’s wrist, and gently compress and release. Slowly work your way up the arm with the same gentle motion, always keeping in mind to massage toward the heart.
- Hands: Using your thumbs, massage the palms with circular strokers. Try working your way up each finger with the same squeeze-and-release motion. Take care not to massage the top of the hand, as that skin’s particularly thin.
- Feet: Again using your thumbs, massage the soles of the feet in an outward circular motion. This movement helps loosen up connective tissue.
- Back and shoulders: Have your loved one sit on a chair. Gently place your palm on your loved one’s sacrum area at the base of the spine. Make circles on the muscles on either side of the spine, being careful not to massage any bone.
The article reminds family members to check with doctors before attempting any massage. Some medications, like blood thinners, might make skin bruise more easily.