As we move later into the 2000s and modern medicine continues to get better and better, the number of older Americans continues to grow every year. The average life expectancy of men and women is currently 76 and 81, respectively. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the U.S. population aged 65 years and older is projected to increase by almost 7 percent by 2030. The number of people over age 65 is expected to double from 35 million to 71 million, and the number of people over age 80 is expected to grow from 9.3 million in 2000 to 19.5 million. This age group presents a vast array of challenges to massage therapists today, but with such a large group of individuals, we need to adapt to keep up with their needs. Luckily, the benefits far outweigh the challenges!

Folks over the age of 65 have an incredibly wide range of differences in ability and health – anywhere from the 70-year-old marathon runner to the frail 90-year-old in hospice care. Any and all of these stages of life can benefit from a massage from a skilled practitioner. Research has indicated that a social connection can be key to a healthy and happy life for any generation. No matter what ailment a single person might present, these are some of the benefits that massage can have for geriatric clients:

  • Improvement of the quality of life and self-esteem.
  • Improvement in length and quality of sleep.
  • Relief of stress, anxiety, depression, fear, and loneliness.
  • Alleviation of headaches and pain.
  • Increased speed of healing from injury and illness.
  • Partial restoration of mobility lost due to Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, etc.
  • Mental and physical relaxation.
  • Improvement in lymphatic flow (increases the excretion of toxins from the body)
  • Deepens Relaxation
  • Deepens breathing
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Relieves joint pain
  • Reduces swelling and edema
  • Stimulates bowels
  • Releases endorphins
  • Brings sense of well-being

Overall, geriatric massage does not differ too greatly from other basic massage modalities such as Swedish massage, but it is tailored to the specific health conditions and needs of an elderly person. Geriatric massage often has the following characteristics:

  • Shorter sessions. A geriatric massage session often lasts around 30 minutes, as a longer session may be too much for an older person, depending on their vitality.
  • Use of gentle massage to improve blood circulation, relieve muscle tension and relax the body and the mind. Gentle massaging of the hands and feet can help prevent stiffness and relieve pain.
  • Occasional use of friction and pressure strokes used to improve flexibility and range of motion.

The main thing to keep in mind for geriatric massage is the physical differences between elderly clients and younger, more spry people. Geriatric massages often are done without requiring the client to change position often, if at all. Occasionally mobility is something that needs to be accounted for. Men and women who are wheelchair bound are unable to get up onto a massage table easily on their own, so the massage therapist must accommodate them by performing the massage with the client in his or her chair. Many elders are sedentary due to painful arthritis, balance difficulties or circulation problems, but gentle stimulating massage can accomplish some of the same results as exercise might. However, no matter what the location or circumstance – in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, in a massage therapist’s clinic or office, or at an elderly person’s own home – massage can be a help to elderly men and women in many ways. More and more, healthcare providers are realizing the benefits of massage for their older patients, and insurance companies are beginning to pay for massages as they realize it is a modality that is used for acquiring and maintaining good health. Preventative maintenance for the body is key to living a long, happy, and healthy life. And what better way to provide that maintenance than a good massage?

Shauna More, student class of November 2017