Research Roundup: Aging + Massage

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A growing population of aging adults receive massage therapy as part of their integrated care to temper aches and pains, tackle chronic pain and aid in long-term care. Studies continue to show that aging and elderly individuals benefit greatly from massage therapy.

Regularly receiving massage has been shown to promote relaxation1 and stability2 while helping temper the effects of dementia,3 high-blood pressure and osteoarthritis.4 By incorporating massage into a regular healthcare regimen, many older adults find a better quality of life and additional relief from a multitude of health issues.

“The aging of both the silent and boomer generations call for an increased focus on improving and prolonging quality of life in this population,” said Nancy M. Porambo, President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “While integrating massage therapy into a health and wellness plan is useful for all ages, it holds particular value in the growing elder population.”

Aging Population Experiencing the Benefits of Massage Therapy

The oldest part of the population is the most rapidly increasing segment of the American public.5 The population of U.S. citizens over age 65 is projected to increase from 12.9 percent to 19.6 percent by 2030, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.6 By 2040, a projected 28 million Americans will be 80 or above, more than three times the population of the bracket in 2000.7

The 18th annual American Massage Therapy Association Consumer Survey, conducted in July 2014, found that approximately 9 million people over the age of 55 had a total of 39 million massages in the previous 12 months. The report found that the primary reason this population received massage was for medical purposespain relief, soreness/stiffness and recovery from injury.5

Related: Meeting the Needs of Elder Clients  | 3.5 Credit Hours

Chronic Pain Relief

Chronic pain is generally underreported in the elderly population due to a fear of stigma and assumption that it is an unavoidable part of aging.8 This highly treatable issue is not being seen as a health ailment, though it has been shown to severely impact lifestyle through disruption of sleep, daily routines and social activities.8 Incorporation of massage therapy into care routines has been demonstrated to help treat chronic pain, particularly in joints, such as the shoulder or knee, while also improving stability and posture.9

“[This study] suggests that regular massage may produce physiological changes that contribute to improved balance and postural control,” says Jo Ellen Sefton, Director of the Neuromechanics Research Laboratory at Auburn University. “This may be
a way to decrease falls in older adults.”

Massage Therapy Has Beneficial Results in Eldercare and Hospice Facilities

With 1.5 million patients in over 16,000 eldercare residences, the benefits of massage therapy are increasingly apparent for these senior citizens.6 Studies have shown that even a brief massage can reduce agitation behavior in older adults living with dementia, such as physical expressions of pacing and wandering.3

Research also shows that massage therapy provides clinical benefits to hospice patients, such as decreased pain and improved quality of life. For example, a recent national cross-sectional survey of a random sample of hospices showed that 29 percent of facilities reported employing an art, massage or music therapist, with 74% of them employing massage therapists.10

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1. Harris M, Richards KC. The physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people. J Clin Nurs. 2010 Apr;19(7-8):917-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.03165.x.
2. Sefton JM, Yarar C, Berry JW, et al. Six weeks of massage therapy produces changes in balance, neurological and cardiovascular measures in older persons. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.2012; 5(3):28-40.
3. Snyder M, Egan EC, Burns KR. Interventions for decreasing agitation behaviors in persons with dementia. J Gerontol Nurs. 1995 Jul;21(7):34-40.
4. Ramsey SD, Spencer AC, Topolski TD, Belza B, Patrick DL. Use of alternative therapies by older adults with osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Jun;45(3):222-7.
5. American Massage Therapy Associate Consumer Survey. The American Massage Therapy Association. 2014.
6. US Department of Health and Human Services (2010). Summary Health Statistics for the U. S.
Population: National Health Interview Survey, 2009. Series 10: Data From the National Health Interview Survey No. 248. Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics.
7. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population.
8. Brown S, Kirkpatrick M, Swanson M. Pain experience of the elderly. Pain Manag Nurs. 2011;12(4):190-196.
9. Abdulla A, Bone M, Adams N. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines on management of pain in older people. Age Ageing. 2013;42(2):151-153.
10. Dain AS, Bradley EH, Hurzeler R, Aldridge MD. Massage, Music and Art Therapy in Hospice: Results of a National Survey. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2014 Dec 30. pii: S0885-3924(14)00942-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2014.11.295.

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