Massage careers can take practitioners all over the world, to all manner of settings. However, when envisioning a post-massage certification career path, the common image is that of a healthy middle-aged person receiving a basic Swedish massage. Reality is much larger in scope. In this series we will be discussing how to work with different client populations- in all ages and stages of life. We kick things off with a discussion of geriatric massage, including its challenges, effective techniques, and benefits.

Challenges Massaging Elderly Clients

Elderly clients can often be intimidating to massage, due to their unique health conditions and physical needs. Older folks who suffer from joint, cardiac, or respiratory conditions may be unable to lie down on the treatment table; or turning over on the side or stomach may be difficult. Older skin and muscles may be delicate. Clients may have greater difficulty undressing. They may have other medical conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes or stroke. Massage for the elderly can be like passive exercise, which may be felt more intensely in older bodies.

Effective Massage Approaches with Older Clients

Rather than assuming massaging the elderly is just a lighter form of Swedish massage, or conversely, refusing elderly clients until you get a medical massage certificate, consider implementing the following approaches and adaptations into your work with elderly clients:

–Learn to do a whole massage with the person supine for 30 minutes in duration.
–Take some time to research the physiology, psychology, and sociology of aging so that you can be more informed about the potential experience of your client.
–Learn as much as possible about your client during the intake. Discover their medical conditions, current medications that may impact skin and muscles, and exact locations of discomfort and pain. Take the time to find out exactly what your clients need.
–Find out as much as you can about how their conditions may impact your treatment. For example, if they have osteoporosis you would not use deep pressure or shiatsu. Likewise, pressure would be unwise for patients on anti-coagulant medications that cause easy bruising.
–Take your time. Slow way down. Allow much more time for clients to get undressed and get on the table. Allot time to help escort them out to the lobby or even to their car if necessary. Slow down and get to know their needs.

Benefits For LMTs of Working with Elderly Patients

There are many benefits from working with elderly clients. First, adapting to older bodies can deepen your practice as a massage therapist and help you learn new and creative approaches. It may broaden your expertise, thus open up a new door for elderly clientele. Massage can is also a powerful therapeutic healing tool for this population, as for all of us, because it helps decrease stress and increase comfort.  Even if a massage experience consists of simply having specialty oil rubbed onto dry skin, massage may deeply transform and enrich the lives of elderly folks.