When I arrived for our massage session, my client Mary’s eyes were devoid of awareness, as if she were there only in body. Mary is an Alzheimer’s patient at a special memory care facility in Westminster, Colorado. She barely speaks, and when she does, her words cannot be understood. When I first began volunteering massage services to seniors years ago, I was nervous around clients like Mary, because communication is so important to the therapist-client relationship. In a case like Mary’s, however, communication is challenging and requires an approach beyond words.
In their search for the fountain of youth, the age-crazed have dwindled fortunes and even tried bizarre “treatments,” all in the name of perpetuity. The irony is that the best age-defying elixir we have is as accessible as our kitchen faucet.
Elderly chorale members have significantly fewer falls, doctor visits, and take less medication than their peers who are not participating in any arts programs, according to an ongoing three-year study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University’s Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities. Furthermore, subjects answering their inner artist reported lower levels of depression, less loneliness, and higher morale, in addition to better health one year after joining.
Loneliness Can Find Us All
"The tiger is ready to go. That was grrrreat!” These are words spoken by an 82-year-old man who had recently been released after a month in the hospital. He had just received his first session of Comfort Touch. Peg, the massage therapist who relayed his story to me, had recently attended my workshop “Comfort Touch for the Elderly and the Ill.”
Another therapist, Kathleen, shared her experience of using Comfort Touch in a hospital: “It is incredible. You look in the eyes of the patient, knowing you made a difference.”
According to the journal Nature, the elderly can significantly increase their cognitive skills by simply developing a regular walking regimen. Of the 120 sedentary, elderly individuals tested, those who increased their stamina by walking three times a week, between 45–60 minutes each time, were more adept at switching mental skills quickly than those who aborted walking in favor of stretching and toning. Such news should be received favorably by many drivers, considering those quick-thinking skills are the same needed when operating a vehicle.
The body movements of tai chi, so graceful and fluid, have long been practiced by both young and old in Eastern cultures. This ancient conditioning exercise, also referred to as tai chi chuan (T’ai Chi Ch’uan or TCC), is rooted in martial arts folk tradition, with “chuan” meaning “boxing,” sometimes referred to as shadow boxing. An exercise in mind and consciousness, the movements are representative of the circular, encompassing state of the universe, bringing “serenity in action and action in serenity.1