Client Handout: Massage + The Aging Population

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According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the population of U.S. citizens over the age of 65 is projected to increase from 12.9 percent to 19.6 percent by 2030. Massage therapy is proving beneficial in helping the elderly population more effectively deal with a wide variety of health issues, from chronic pain to dementia to decreased stability.

Research on Massage for Relaxation

The research

In a review designed to examine the physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people, researchers looked at all studies on the subject for dates from 1991 through June 2009 using Cooper’s five-stage model. The quality of the research was evaluated using the Research Appraisal Checklist, and 21 studies met the inclusion criteria for massage, relevance to older people and rigorous research.

The results

All studies using slow-stroke back massage and hand massage showed statistically significant improvements on physiological or psychological indicators of relaxation. The most common protocols were three-minute slow-stroke back massage and 10-minute hand massage.

Research on Massage for Stress & Aggressiveness

A 2010 study aimed at investigating the physical and psychological effects of six weeks of tactile massage on elderly patients with severe dementia found that massage therapy helped reduce aggressiveness and stress in patients with dementia.

The study

For the study, tactile massage was defined as a soft massage focused on improving physical relaxation and psychological well-being. Tactile massage therapy was administered for 20 minutes for a total of 30 sessions to a group consisting of elderly patients with dementia. The control group received no intervention. Chromogranin A (CgA) levels were measured as an index of stress.

The results

Both the aggressiveness score and the CgA levels decreased significantly after the six weeks of tactile massage, suggesting that massage may reduce aggressiveness and stress levels in patients with dementia.

Older Adults' Use of Massage Therapy

According to the 18th annual American Massage Therapy Association Consumer Survey, conducted in July 2014, approximately 9 million people over the age of 55 had a total of 39 million massages in the previous 12 months.

Medical purposes such as pain relief, soreness/stiffness and recovery from injury were the primary reason this population received massage.


J Clin Nurs. 2010 Apr;19(7-8):917-26. “The physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people.” Harris M1, Richards KC.
Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2010 Dec;25(8):680-6. “Physical and psychological effects of 6-week tactile massage on elderly patients with severe dementia.” Suzuki M1, Tatsumi A, Otsuka T, Kikuchi K, Mizuta A, Makino K, Kimoto A, Fujiwara K, Abe T, Nakagomi T, Hayashi T, Saruhara T.

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Kristie W., AMTA member since 2011