Many people feel that touch is beneficial, on the basis of their own personal experience. Several studies have also supported the idea that touch can have a positive impact on physical and mental health. Elderly people often feel very isolated and alone, so focused touch from a skilled massage therapist or nurse can help ease depression, stress, and other emotions related to perceived isolation. Touch can also stimulate circulation, boost the immune system, and ease the aches and pains which plague many elderly bodies.
Several issues must be considered when working on the elderly. The first is that elderly bodies tend to be more delicate. Deep tissue work and penetrating massage techniques are not suitable for many geriatric clients, because these styles of massage can cause pain and bruising. Elderly bodies also experience more stiffness and joint problems, and this issue must be taken into account when working with the elderly. The skin of older people is also very fragile, requiring the use of massage oil or cream and gentle massage techniques to avoid tearing or irritation.
The goal of a geriatric massage session is usually to help the client relax, and to increase flexibility and ease joint pain. The massage tends to be very light and gentle, and the massage therapist or nurse stays very attuned to signs that the client might be experiencing discomfort. Sometimes, lightly brushing the skin is enough, while in other cases, slow circular massage moves may be used. Some patients also benefit from the gentle stimulation of pressure points.
Because elderly people tend to get colder more easily than young people, geriatric massage is usually done on a warmed massage table with a thick pad which reduces pressure on protruding bones or healing surgical sites. The client is covered in a lightweight sheet and a blanket by request, and only the portion of the body which is actively being worked on will be exposed. More modest clients may prefer to wear undergarments or even clothes, in which case the massage will be adjusted to the patient's comfort level. Geriatric massage can take place by arrangement in the home, at a massage studio, or in a hospital or long-term care facility.