As the massage industry continues to grow, massage is becoming a popular choice among Americans for pain relief and overall health. Senior massage therapy is on the rise as an alternative to more invasive therapies.

The retirement age has risen over the past few years, and Americans are collecting Social Security benefits later than ever before.

Although it may not seem like a concern, a new study shows that collecting Social Security later may be detrimental to the elder population’s health.

In October 2017, the University of Michigan released a study revealing that as the retirement age increases, the health of older people nearing retirement is decreasing.

According to the study, pre-retirement generations today have more health issues impacting their lives compared to prior generations in their 50s.

The study used data from long-term health studies and is the first to focus specifically on a group of Americans based on Social Security retirement age.

The study suggests that older workers will continue to face more challenges than previous generation as they work, apply for Social Security disability payments and retire using other sources of income.

Aging Americans

Social Security retirement age was raised in 1983, at a time when 50- and 60-year-old adults were in their 20s and 30s.

Back then, demographers predicted a longer life expectancy for this age group compared with their parents’ generations.

Selena Belisle, a senior massage educator and instructor at the CE Institute, said that people are living longer but not staying as active. “We are not using our joints properly with this immobility, and that’s when we use them at all,” she said.

“The problem is, many of us work long hours, and the last thing we want to do after a long hard day’s work is exercise.”

In the study, researchers grouped Americans into five groups born between 1937 and 1962 based on when they could collect their Social Security benefit. From this study, researchers discovered that those who waited longer for their benefits had higher rates of poor cognition in their 50s compared to those who did not wait as long.

In addition, the group of adults who were born later and had to wait longer to receive their benefits, tended to rate their health as fair or poor compared to adults born earlier.

The study found that this group had trouble with performing daily tasks by themselves such as taking medications or shopping. However, the researchers there weren’t strong physical differences between the groups, such as lifting 10 pounds or climbing a flight of stairs.

Benefits of Senior Massage

If a client is looking for a healing and soothing way to combat old age, massage may provide more benefits than they might first realize.

“Massage therapy for geriatrics is on the rise,” Belisle said. “As the massage industry continues to grow, massage is becoming a popular choice among Americans for pain relief and overall health.”

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT, an occupational and massage therapist in eldercare and disability rehabilitation and a training and education consultant for AGE-u-cate Training Institute, said that massage can influence a person’s well-being and ability to live well and longer for older adults with chronic health conditions.

“Massage can have a significant positive impact on physical symptom relief of chronic health conditions older adults live with, such as arthritis, diabetes, COPD and recovery from injury or surgery,” Catlin said.

Massage can also combat the stiff movements in our bodies.

“We need greater physical activity and mobility in our lives,” Belisle said. “Massage therapy can increase circulation and bring a client through stretching and passive joint mobilization that a client might not practice on their own.”

From Young Adult to Senior Massage

For generations, conventional medicine and doctors were thought of as the only care option for health matters, Belisle said.

She noted that as health care costs have increased, people are looking for quicker and cheaper ways to improve their health.

“Massage therapy is often far less invasive, less risky and less expensive, when considering lost work time, to treat pain instead of the ‘old-school’ formulas of surgery,” she said.

It is also important to consider the factors influencing older people’s decision receive massage treatments.

Catlin said she has noticed people with higher levels of income are more likely to get a massage and continue receiving massage therapy. “There is a gap in socioeconomics,” she said.

“Someone that’s benefited from massage while younger will be more likely to continue seeking out massage as they age.”

Tailoring Senior Massage

Because of age and needs, seniors choose massage for different reasons than younger people.

Catlin says many older clients will come for a massage to address a particular need. In some cases, clients may turn to massage with a referral following a surgery or accident.

In addition, massage can keep the skin healthy and soft.

As we age, our skin can become thin, wrinkled, dry and itchy, Belisle said.

To treat irritation and replenish the skin, Belisle uses high quality moisturizing agents such as shea butter and organic creams.

“I use these heavy moisturizing mediums to create a secondary benefit for seniors,” she said. “First, my seniors receive all the benefits of a therapeutic massage, which includes increased circulation, increased range of motion, bodily awareness. Second, my massage can moisturize the skin in areas where my client cannot reach, such as the back.”

In addition, making adjustments for older adults is necessary, Catlin said. “I’ve noticed many of my older clients don’t tolerate an hour and prefer 30-minute sessions,” she said. “Often, I’ve had to modify how to position an older client on the table or even do the massage with them seated instead.”

Belisle agreed. “One of the most important differences I provide between geriatric and younger clients is getting on and off the massage table, she said. “While safety is important for all clients, I make adjustments for seniors.”

Her adjustments include checking the areas where clients will walk or stand through, making sure the room is well lit and providing greater assistance when a client gets on or off the massage table.

She also washes and wipes the client’s feet at the end of a massage and returns the client’s eyewear at the end of the massage before allowing them to sit up or dismount from the table.

The Senior Massage Therapist

Catlin said it’s important to remember that no two people age the same, and people have a wide range of individual differences.

“It’s a mistake to generalize our approach to clients just based on age,” she said. “We need to take into account each client’s health, function, goals and needs,” she said. “There may be a need to accommodate vision changes, limited range of motion, decreased balance and mobility, or even cognition.”

Belisle said seniors appreciate the time she has taken to learn how to understand the many deteriorating changes going on in their body and sees an increase in loyalty in older adults.

“My geriatric clients understand the value of having the same therapist work on them repeatedly,” she said. “We can see when a joint has lost range of motion and work on that loss.”

Massage therapists who see a senior or other type of clientele should possess a liability insurance policy that covers many modalities and protects them in case of client accident or injury.

She adds that this relationship benefits both the client and the therapist.

“To me, if a client is seeing a new therapist for every massage, then that new therapist does not know what’s normal for their new client,” Belisle said.

“It takes time to learn a client’s body and understand it’s physical hiccups, create improvements and avoid losses, and this is more efficiently practiced with a regular massage therapist over time.”

About the Author

Lily Zhao is a graduate of The Missouri School of Journalism where she graduated with a degree in journalism. She grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City.

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