When a Caregiver's Touch is Key
4/27/2012 9:52 AM
In an age of high tech health care, it is really gratifying to know that something as simple and personal as human touch can make a difference in the life of an older person. By stimulating the receptors that are just beneath skin, massage can bolster an individual’s immune system, reduce their stress level and generally improve their mood and sense of well-being. Gentle massage of an older person also will improve their blood circulation, ease their aches or pains and enhance their emotional outlook.
Anyone who has raised kids knows that sometimes it is just a hug, a kiss, or a gentle touch that takes away the stress or hurt of an infant. And we all know that holding hands, a pat on the back or a kindly touch conveys so much in the way of a feel good to another person with whom we want to connect. So, if you have an older person in your orbit, try one of these four approaches to enhance their health and well-being:
- Compression and Release – starting at the wrist and working your way up a person’s arms gently compress and then release. And if they will allow you to touch their feet and legs, work on those extremities also.
- Hand to Hand – the same basic approach can be applied to the hands. Using your palms you can gently compress and release each of the digits and work your way to their palms.
- Touch the Soles – poor circulation in the feet that comes from less walking in older adults can be relieved by loosening the feet’s connective tissue using your thumbs to gently massage the bottoms of their feet.
- Back to Back – being careful not to put pressure on bone, use the palm of your hand to work in circles from the sacrum and up the spine. It relieves the tension in muscles that cause backache and limit range of motion.
It is important with an older recipient of your massage that you remember that they are in fact old, and that their tissue requires gentle attention. It will not be one of those deep massages that a younger person might seek at the spa.
- Older skin is more prone to bruising or even tearing, so start soft. Use lotions that are not sticky to avoid any tearing of the skin.
- Be aware of the medications that the person may be taking as some meds like blood thinners will make them particularly susceptible to bruising.
- And diabetics will have greater loss of sensation of their feet or hands so they may not even be able to tell you when you are bruising their extremities.
- Avoid pressure on bones will be really important if your older person has been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
- Also avoid open wounds so that you don’t start or spread an infection.
Finally, it is important to remember that massage is an intimate experience that not every older person will immediately accept. Get their permission, and maybe even start with an invitation to take the excess lotion from your hands as a warm-up to sharing the benefits of touch. And remember that as you touch the person, you also are touching their heart.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop