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Working With Aging Massage Therapy Clients, Part 2

19 Nov 2014

In Part 1 of this post we introduced the topic of what’s commonly called ‘geriatric massage,’ and how this segment of the population can be a source of clients for massage therapy professionals.  In this follow-up we’ll review some specific ways that massage or shiatsu therapists can adapt their techniques to address the special needs of this group and provide appropriate bodywork. 

How to Work with Older Massage Therapy Clients

While your particular approach to each client is going to differ, based on the needs and situations as well as your interaction with the client, here are some general tips to help.

  • #1: Don’t refer to them as ‘old.’  Many aging individuals bristle at the term ‘geriatric’ or ‘elderly,’ even when they’re well into their 80s.  Some prefer the term ‘mature.’
  • #2: Don’t talk down to them.  Residents of nursing homes, hospital patients, and those in assisted living facilities don’t appreciate being patronized or spoken to as if they were children.  It’s a major complaint in hospitals, for example.  Asking, ‘How are we today?’ can be insulting.  Addressing an older client as ‘Honey’ or ‘Dear’ is not endearing, it’s demeaning.  Speak respectfully, but treat them as you would any other adult. 
  • #3: Work WITH their other health care team members and stay informed as to medical conditions that should be taken into account. And be sure they’ve gotten the OK from their doctor before proceeding.  Individuals with certain medical conditions need to avoid deep tissue massage or stroking which moves the blood supply toward the heart.  Those with osteoporosis aren’t the best candidates for deep tissue massage either.
  • #3: Adjust your techniques as needed.  Your ‘mature’ clients may not be able to tolerate deep tissue massage, or they may be on medication that can affect what you do.  For example, did you know that a person on anti-coagulants bruises easily?  Ask about all meds they take. 

Your Most Important Skill in Dealing with an Elderly Client is Patience

You might be used to clients who can undress and get up on your massage table without any assistance in under 5 minutes.  When working with older clients, keep in mind that everything is going to take a little bit longer, and they may need some assistance with dressing and undressing as well as getting onto your table. They may even need some help getting to their vehicle. This is where your communication during your initial intake interview is really crucial.  Find out what’s important, how they view the massage therapy session, and what they’d like help with.  Find out what their main concern is and what they are expecting to receive.  And keep in mind that their hearing may not be the best, so make sure that what you’ve said is understood and that you’re both in agreement.

For many elderly clients, simply providing a gentle massage after applying lotion to severely dry skin may be enough.  After all, gentle and compassionate touch itself is therapeutic and relaxing.   Keep in mind that generally this group deals with more pain and sensitivity to touch, so your best bet is to lighten up and modify your regular techniques to deliver less pressure, focusing on soothing.  

One thing about this segment of the population – they can be vocal.  If they don’t like the treatment they’ve received, others may hear about it.  But if what you’ve provided has been exactly what they were looking for, that will get broadcast, too. 

* * * * *
Watch our blog for an upcoming post on how to market your skills to this older group.  And for more information on dealing with massage for the elderly, check out our upcoming continuing education course, Special Populations – Geriatric Care.  Bodywork professionals can register for this three-session class at our Minneapolis massage school by January 2, 2015.  Class begins January 13th.  Click here for details

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