From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Expert Advice: Geriatric Massage,” by Sharon Puszko, in the March 2010 issue. Article summary: In the midst of these grim truths about Alzheimer’s disease, something to look forward to is the emergence of massage therapy as a technique for managing irritability and anxiety for those living with it. Massage can serve as a lifeline to a once-familiar world, while all other senses start to disappear.

by Sharon Puszko

Massage therapy offers a drug-free alternative to managing the agitation associated with dementia.

Holly Cotton knows this well. Cotton has been a licensed health-care administrator since 1993 and is currently executive director of The Stratford at West Clay, a retirement community in central Indiana. She strongly supports the use of massage for her Alzheimer’s patients.

“I have found that massage assists to alleviate depression and anxiety, and promote a sense of well-being,” Cotton says. “Just the act of a physical touch that isn’t necessarily associated with typical care-giving gives the resident a feeling of calm and centeredness.”

The more massage therapists work with Alzheimer’s patients—in nursing homes, hospitals and private houses—the closer we get to establishing massage and therapeutic touch as a viable alternative treatment to drugs. I speak about this topic not only from years of professional work, but also from experience.

My father lived with me for two years during the end stage of his 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s. I would give him a massage at least three times a week, and I witnessed the positive effect it had on him. It was clear the massage alleviated some of his anxiety, improved his circulation, helped prevent the development of decubitus ulcers and enhanced his sleep.

Long after he became unresponsive, when I would walk by him, he would reach out his hand for me to touch him. I would stop and massage his shoulders and hands, and often he would fall asleep afterward.

Caring for him not only as a daughter, but as a practitioner and educator, clearly demonstrated on a regular basis that massage really does improve the quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s.

Sharon Puszko, Ph.D., L.M.T., is the owner/director and educator of the Day-Break Geriatric Massage Institute. Since 1995, Day-Break has been a nationally approved continuing-education provider for beginning and advanced training in massage for the elderly, from robust to frail, including Alzheimer’s patients. For a list of class locations, visit