A diagnosis of dementia — from Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease used mean the beginning of the end of a meaningful life for afflicted individuals. Today, however, there are many therapies to help prove that life not only goes on — it can be rich in meaning, independence and dignity.
People living with dementia often respond positively to massage. Massage can help them to connect to their bodies and the pleasant aspects of human contact. Soothing, calming touch can provide a dementia patient a momentary respite from the bewilderment and confusion they face on a regular basis.
The Benefits of Massage Therapy in Dementia Care
The broad, general benefits of therapeutic massage, when appropriately adapted, are beneficial in improving circulation, softening contracted muscles, relieving minor aches and pains, and promoting relaxation. Perhaps even more importantly, skilled touch sessions provide significant psychosocial benefits to those with dementia, including:
Focused one-on-one attention
An opportunity for social interaction
Sensory and tactile stimulation
Intentional, caring touch helps to:
Reassure those who are confused
Calm those who are agitated
Increase body awareness
Ground the disoriented person in present time and space
Provide a touchstone with physical reality
Reinforce verbal communication
Redirect energy or shift attention
Reduce the need for medication
Alleviate feelings of isolation, loneliness or abandonment
What does the research say?
There is some compelling evidence demonstrating the benefits of massage therapy for people with dementia:
This study identified a trend towards greater chronic pain relief for patients with dementia or advanced dementia in a residential aged care facility following the application of therapeutic massage. The researchers concluded that “massage appears to be useful adjunct to the current pain treatment plans available to patients with dementia or advanced dementia in aged care facilities”.
This study explores how massage impacts sleep patterns. Outcomes suggests that “slow stroke back massage may be an effective nursing intervention for sleep in persons with dementia in the nursing home”.
“Lack of human touch is real for the medically frail elder, leading to feelings of isolation, anxiety, poor trust in caregivers, insecurity and decreased sensory awareness. Older adults living with serious conditions are often especially receptive to touch. Unfortunately, they are least likely to receive expressive human touch from health care providers.” Ann Caitlin – Recognized expert and educator in the field of skilled touch for people living with dementia and in end-of-life care
What makes this type of massage special?
Establishing a relationship of trust is the most important way to ensure that a massage session is therapeutic.
Offering gentleness, mindfulness and tenderness, during moments of confusion and frustration will help ease behavioral symptoms.
Moving slowly and communicating clearly increases the patient’s relaxation and calmness while decreasing stress and anxiety.
Sometimes, a long session can be over-stimulating. A therapist trained in Somatic Assessment can alter their session based on how the client’s body and breathe is responding to the massage. When a client is unable to communicate their wants or needs, this becomes even more important.
Resources: The Role of Massage Therapy in Dementia Care Effect of Therapeutic Massage on Pain in Patients with Dementia Massaging Clients with Dementia Physical and Psychological Effects of 6-Week Tactile Massage on Elderly Patients With Severe Dementia