Tomorrow I start a new regular booking at a local care home in Essex. It's the same home that took care of my Grandma before she sadly passed away. They have over seventy elderly residents, a number of whom have dementia, and I'm so pleased that they recognise massage as an important part of their residents' care.
Let's not get carried away - I'm not going to be doing any deep tissue techniques or using firm pressure. The massage techniques I'll be using with these residents are focused on soothing, aimed to make residents feel comfortable and at ease. We call it 'pamper time' and I aim to provide just that.
My Grandma was without my Grandad for 15 long years before she left us. She missed so many things about him, but one was simply holding his hand. The soothing touch of a hand can work wonders in evoking feelings of reassurance, trust, protection and relaxation. This simple act of touch is just one example of why complementary therapy is such a powerful way of helping people.
Before becoming a Massage Therapist, I used to work for Alzheimer's Society, so I'm really looking forward to reconnecting with the people I felt so passionate about helping.
If you're affected by dementia, and are thinking about massage therapy for yourself or a loved one, here are some quick reference points to show the benefits that massage can bring:
Benefits of massage to elderly people and people with dementia:
- A short hand massage can encourage a relaxation response in the brain, decreasing our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). This is particularly important in elderly people as our immune system is stronger when cortisol levels are lowered. Massage can also increase levels of serotonin in the body. This is a neurochemical which regulates mood and enhances feelings of calm and relaxation.
- Massage can help release endorphins, which in turn make us feel happy and energised. Even if a person with dementia cannot remember having had a massage that day, they may remember the feeling of being happy. They may remember that they did something enjoyable that day, even if their precise memory of it has been displaced. It is important to keep doing these enjoyable activities, ensuring we keep releasing the valuable endorphins that our bodies need.
- Soothing massage strokes and comforting touch can help create a sense of trust for a person with dementia. This soothing touch can help to reassure and to reduce distress. It can also help people with dementia to feel comfortable in the company of others without the pressure of conversation or daunting questions.
It is important to understand the expectations of complementary massage therapy for elderly people. It will not 'take 50 years off' and leave them doing laps around their care home grounds, nor will it cure illnesses. However, it does bring a number of physical and psychological benefits (of which we have just scratched the surface), which can help to make residents much more comfortable.
More information on dementia:
I am not a Dementia Care Specialist by any means, and this blog is based on: my observations, personal experience and further reading. If you'd like to find out more or need advice about living with dementia and helping others living with the condition, please contact Alzheimer's Society who are here to help: 0300 222 1122, or see here for more information: www.alzheimers.org.uk/helpline
Wish me luck for my first day! I'll let you know how it all goes, and also share any tips I pick up for those of you who are carers for any elderly loved ones. I admire you all - what a selfless and wonderful thing you are doing.