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Massage and Dementia

In my early years of training as a therapist I had a wonderful experience with a lady who had latter stages of Dementia. It was an area in which I never thought I would be able to make a difference as a complementary therapist; how can you benefit a disease of the brain? The lady came in agitated and a little upset and my lecturer, quickly picking up on my upset, warmly smiled and said; a 5-minute hand and arm massage on each side will be lovely. Within minutes this lovely lady was now sound asleep on the chair, and it was from that moment, I understood how powerful informative and compassionate touch was and how important complementary therapy can be for benefiting the symptoms of a disease.

Dementia is a general umbrella term applied to several conditions that have widespread and permanent impairment on the cortex and sub-cortex areas of the brain, so for massage to have such powerful benefits on a degenerative brain disease can be mind-boggling… so let’s break it down.

· When a loved one responds positively to massage therapy, whether it it’s a hand and arm massage, a shoulder massage or massage of the feet, hormones are released. Hormones such as endorphins and serotonin. These release into the body encouraging feelings of well-being and reducing anxiety and irritability.

· These hormones also have a significant benefit to improving quality of sleep which is a symptom that many suffer from and feelings of isolation and loneliness are reduced.

· Their circulation and lymphatic system are stimulated which improves their immune systems making them less susceptible to infections.

· Massage also helps increase spatial awareness and alertness reducing the risk of falling.

· Concentration is improved.

· Their digestive system is stimulated which improves digestion and elimination of waste.

· Pain and agitation are reduced from the wonderful endorphin release and…

· Importantly, individuals living with dementia don’t loose recognition of a caring touch even into the latter stages of the disease.

Carers are also impacted by the disease. The physical and emotional demands of caring for someone with dementia can be high. As the amount of care that is needed increases, more time and energy is required from the carer. If you are caring for a person with dementia, you need to look after yourself or the demands may wear you down. Taking time to yourself to receive a treatment looks after your health so as you can look after theirs.

Skilled, compassionate human touch helps ease physical, emotional and psychosocial distress that leads to behavioural symptoms of dementia. A hand massage, back massage or simply holding a person has the power to elicit positive, life-affirming feelings and responses. For the person with Dementia, touch becomes a language of the human heart and a remembrance of their place in the world.

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