I have been doing a great deal of reading about touch and it’s affects on the human body. Through the course of reading over the last weeks, it seems that several clients have expressed concern for aging parents and the ways that pain is affecting their loved ones quality of life. Some of the family members are living in nursing homes, and others are living in the home with the family.
It is difficult to watch a loved one suffer. While a baby may not be able to adequately communicate their needs except through a cry, we can generally pick them up and through series of trial and error figure out what they need to calm them down. Our aging family members however, can tell us exactly what is wrong and where the pain is, but often relying on drugs and medical treatment leave us feeling guilty and helpless for keeping them in a drugged state.
As a massage therapist, I experience daily the magic of positive therapeutic touch. And through studying infant massage, I also know that family members have the power to profoundly impact the life of another family member through touch! When we live our day to day lives we forget how nice a simple hug or a held hand can feel. We have a very high number of nerves in the hands, feet and face. When a person is in pain, we can send comforting signals of touch to the brain through touching these areas with minimal risk to the person who is experiencing pain. Our brain has a faster response to a pleasurable comforting touch than it does to something that is causing pain, so offering the brain a positive touch can help minimize the amount of pain our loved ones feel.
There are a few things to consider when working with an elderly family member. First, ask them if it would be ok for you to give them a hand or a foot massage. The hands are a great place to start if you are new to practicing a therapeutic touch. However, if your family member has thin skin or arthritis in their hands or feet, a great alternative is giving your family member a facial massage. The face is one of the most relaxing places to receive a massage and it is also a very intimate place to touch. Think of the way a hand feels against the cheek and think of the way a baby instinctively turns their head when the cheek is touched. Offering a light, but not ticklish touch on the cheek, even if their is no massage movement, can be extremely comforting for your family member.
This day and age, we forget about the power of touch and we sometimes forget that we can touch our family members in a nurturing way to comfort them and provide reassurance that you are there with them and are doing everything you can to help them feel better. One last thing that touch provides is it takes away the feeling of helplessness from the person who is offering the touch. It empowers you to do something besides make another phone call to the Dr., pace the floor, and wonder if the pain meds will help this time. I get to experience this power daily when I work with clients, and while I am licensed to touch through therapeutic massage, a family member needs no license to offer a comforting touch to another family member.
For more information on massage therapy services from Tree of Life for seniors, click here.
-Chrystal B. Copeland