No matter how old you are, various types of massage can help you with everything from sore muscles to migraines. But for seniors, massage can have an even broader array of benefits. Geriatric massage involves some specific techniques and tricks to avoid causing injury, but when done correctly, massage for seniors can have some unique benefits.
Below, we’ll discuss the top seven ways seniors can benefit from therapeutic massage—but first, we’ll discuss some geriatric massage techniques.
Massage for Seniors 101 The most important thing to remember for senior massage is that a light touch is best. Most senior massage techniques use gentle pressure and light stretching, instead of hard kneading or knuckling, to avoid injuring seniors’ more delicate skin or putting too much pressure on bones and joints.
Seniors should consult with their physicians before embarking on any massage therapies. Depending on the underlying health condition, there may be certain massage techniques that should be avoided (or highlighted). For example, someone with respiratory or pulmonary issues may not want to lie on their back if doing so reduces their ability to take deep breaths.
The massage therapist will require some flexibility when it comes to positioning the client for the massage. Adaptive and adjustable massage tables can provide some options for those who might not be able to get themselves on or off a traditional massage table.
It’s important to stick with short sessions at first, then increase the amount of time only if the patient tolerates it well.
With these parameters in mind, here are seven of the primary benefits of massage for seniors.
Benefit #1: Improved Circulation One of the biggest benefits of massage at any age involves improved circulation. By stimulating the nerves and blood vessels closest to the skin, massage can help ensure oxygen gets to every part of the body, increasing seniors’ heat and cold tolerance and improving their cardiac health. Regular massage can keep this circulation going, and targeting areas of poor circulation (often the hands, feet, and other extremities) can further boost the positive effects.
Benefit #2: Reduced Pain Massaging the skin and muscles can stimulate endorphins, your body’s own natural pain relievers. Though massage isn’t a substitute for heavy-duty painkillers, when employed regularly, it can help reduce chronic pain associated with certain illnesses like cancer, osteoarthritis, or autoimmune disorders. For those who have only mild pain, massage may be able to reduce or eliminate the patient’s reliance on over-the-counter pain relievers.
Benefit #3: Improved Balance and Flexibility When combined with light stretching, massage can improve seniors’ balance and overall flexibility. And because falls can be a major injury risk for seniors, improving balance can go a long way toward reducing this risk, especially for seniors who live alone.
Benefit #4: Increased Lymphatic Flow Lymph nodes filter lymph fluid, which contains your body’s natural immune defenses: white blood cells. But when lymph nodes become damaged—whether as a side effect of certain illnesses or cancer treatments or naturally as part of the aging process—they’re less efficient at filtering lymph, which can cause swelling and soreness in the tissues surrounding the damaged lymph node. Massage can improve the flow of lymph through the body, reducing swelling and boosting the patient’s immune response.
Benefit #5: Touch and Bonding Many seniors can be touch-deprived, especially those who live alone or in a facility. Regular massage can renew that person-to-person connection, providing comfort, reducing anxiety, and easing depression.
Benefit #6: A Better Memory Although massage in itself won’t improve a memory that’s growing fuzzier with age, it can help reduce the physical symptoms of dementia—agitation, pacing, and repetitive behaviors. What’s more, some studies show that geriatric massage can tap into “body memory,” helping Alzheimer’s and dementia patients retain and recall certain memories.
Benefit #7: A Good Night’s Sleep One of the most immediate benefits of massage for seniors can be an improvement in sleep quality. The rhythmic, relaxing strokes of a massage session can get the brain into a more sleep-friendly mode, and you may stay in the most important, deep stages of sleep for a longer time.
If you or a loved one could benefit from more restful sleep, natural pain relief, or improved lymphatic flow, consider massage as a therapeutic option. Massage for seniors can have far more benefits than meet the eye, and it’s a non-invasive, low-impact way to improve one’s quality of life.