1. Hynes, Millie R. LMT


Massage therapy with older patients can be healing and rewarding work.


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I felt intimidated at my first meeting with other nurse massage therapists who belonged to the National Association of Nurse Massage Therapists. My experience before attending massage school involved working as a practical nurse and not as an RN like the other attendees. Eager to learn more from them, I soaked up their case study presentations. When the time came for me to share about my work, several inquired with interest about my practice with elderly clients, and I began to relax. But during the break, one of the attendees, who was developing a spa and making good money, said to me, "Millie, why do you waste your time on those old people? All you can do is fluff and buff them."

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Illustration by Janet Hamlin.

She walked away before I had a chance to answer. But I have witnessed changes in my elderly clients that go far beyond "fluffing and buffing." During therapeutic geriatric massage, the body responds to the increase in circulation; tissues soften, and relaxation ensues. I offer these older folks a recess from their chronic pain, as well as compassionate touch they often lack.


Take Agnes, for example. Her daughter noticed massage therapy advertised as a modality offered in the facility where her mother resided. Familiar with massage herself, she asked the physician to write an order and asked me to schedule Agnes as soon as possible. However, no one discussed this plan with Agnes.


When the aide brought Agnes in a wheelchair into my dimly lit massage room with soft music playing and the massage table ready in front of her, she asked, "Where am I?"


The aide introduced me and said, "Your daughter and the doctor thought a massage would make you feel better."


Agnes exclaimed, "I don't want a massage!"


"Let me explain to you what the intent of a massage is," I said. She seemed to listen as I explained the benefits to her, and I had the impression that I'd persuaded her to at least try a treatment. But when I reached out to help her transfer to the massage table, she pulled away.


I gently tried again. "Agnes," I said, "I see you have signs of arthritis in your hands and the skin is dry. Why don't you just let me rub your hands?" I took her cold, stiff hand with its thin, shiny skin and began to slowly apply cream, caressing every joint slowly and gently. Agnes watched intently and slowly seemed to relax.


I'd read her chart and social history before the massage. "Agnes," I said, trying to engage her in conversation. "I hear that you're an expert in needlework and started a club when you first moved to the independent living apartments."


"Yes, but I can't do it anymore since my stroke," she retorted angrily. She added, "Unless this massage will help me as much as you think it will."


"I can't make any promises," I told her. "And the results would be cumulative, meaning you would most likely need to come on a regular basis to see significant benefits."


"Then sign me up for Wednesdays," she declared.


"Let me lie you down on my heated table so I can better work on your shoulders, arms, and legs," I told her. Without hesitation, she accepted my help to move to the massage table. As she lay down on the warm surface, she said, "Oh, that heat feels good."


She became quiet and closed her eyes. When I completed the treatment, I suggested she also try incorporating physical therapy to strengthen her muscles. She surprised the physical therapist by asking to try ambulating with a walker. She began to eat and sleep better. All looked hopeful.


Unfortunately, she fell and broke her hip when she tried to get up from her wheelchair without help. The physician expressed concern to her daughter about Agnes surviving the needed hip replacement surgery because of her heart condition.


I went into her room to visit her. With a huff, she said, "That doctor doesn't know who he's dealing with. I'll do just fine and be back here for my massage next Wednesday." She reached out and squeezed my hand.


Agnes survived the surgery and recovered quickly with the help of physical therapy and massage. Her newfound positive attitude surprised everyone.


There is more to this story than just fluffing and buffing. My friend running the spa may be doing well financially, but I am rich in other ways as I see my clients happier and more independent.