Touch. It's a human need. Babies in orphan nurseries, who are properly fed and kept warm and clean but not given enough touch, can die. The need for human touch never goes away. While our elders often lose the keen hearing they once enjoyed, and their eyes grow dim, their need for touch doesn't diminish. If anything, it increases, as they are already experiencing sensory deprivation from the loss of other senses.
Depression can result from a lot of things, but I believe the lack of gentle, restorative touch can help push an elder along that downward spiral. Enter massage therapy. One of my column readers told me that the best gift she ever gave her mother was to have a licensed massage therapist go to the nursing home once a week and give her mother a massage. This woman was lucky enough to meet someone who had been a CNA in a nursing home before becoming a therapist. That won't happen for most of us, but there are many therapists trained in a very gentle massage techniques.
The therapist started by chatting and making friends with the reader's mother. She then began gentle massage of the woman's hands, forearms, feet and ankles. The elder remained fully clothed at all times. I think this is important. This is a generation that isn't likely to relax when undressed, and many aren't used to the touch of a stranger. Eventually, the therapist was able to have the elder lie back on her bed and receive a neck and shoulder massage.
Trust is essential. The elder had dementia and didn't remember the "lovely woman" who came each week. It was always a surprise. But the mother must have, on some level, remembered the touch, as she was happy and willing to receive this massage each week, from the "stranger."
I was told that the massage raised the elder's spirits for days. So, I'm thinking, what could it hurt? This sounds, to me like a great Christmas gift. I think, if you do consider massage for your elder, you might want to try the therapist yourself first (oh, the sacrifice!). The reason for this, of course, is that some types of massage are quite vigorous. Many elders have thin, dry skin and some have very fragile bones. Obviously you want a massage therapist who understands this.
In some cases, you may want to check with a physician, but I would think most would agree that a gentle massage, on a regular basis, would be very helpful. The healing effect of touch is well known. The purposeful touch of a trained massage therapist could be a wonderful gift. This, of course, doesn't mean you can't be the one to massage on lotion, and tenderly rub a back. It's just one more way to extend the relaxation and special feelings that can go with human contact.
Published On: November 28, 2007