Many elderly individuals become sensory deprived as their faculties fade but the basic need for touch remains constant. As individuals lose sensory and cognitive skills, they become unable to interact socially, which may lead to feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety and agitation. Touch often remains the last form of communication when all other avenues have surrendered to the disease. When massage therapy is administered to patients in the end stages of dementia, it fosters feelings of intimacy and emotional connectedness.
Dementia is a slow progression of symptoms, sometimes lasting decades. At the onset, patients experience memory loss, confusion, language problems, changes in mood and difficulty performing daily tasks. This leads to an increase in anxiety and agitation, sometimes causing the patient to act out in ways considered socially unacceptable or improper. Sleep patterns become disrupted during the progression of dementia, and massage has been useful in treating insomnia. Additionally, many individuals suffer from a loss of appetite as Alzheimer's progresses, causing significant weight loss, resulting in physical frailty. A gentle hand massage given during light conversation has shown to improve appetite within an hour of the patient receiving it.
Massage can also stimulate the nervous system of Alzheimer's patients, helping to maintain nerve passageways that are in a state of decline due to the disease. A gentle massage provides relief and also aids drug therapies, possibly as a result of increased circulation. A neck and shoulder massage helps maintain upper body strength and muscle tone.
This blog post was written by Michelle Chaves-Torres, Arbor Hospice Massage Therapist and Complementary Therapy Coordinator. You may contact Michelle by commenting below or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.