By 2050, America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double from 48 million to 88 million, according to the National Institutes of Health.“Older people are a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population,” said National Institute on Aging (NIA) Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., in a 2016 NIA statement.
“People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier,” he added. “The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and also several public health challenges that we need to prepare for.”
Battling LonelinessWith such a significant increase in that particular demographic come challenges of finding long-term care solutions. Many people will end up in assisted living facilities where loneliness and depression can often plague even the most sociable of people.
Between 1 and 5 percent of elderly living in community are depressed, while that figure rises to 11.5 percent in hospitalized elderly, for example.
Marc Silverstein saw it with his own mother.
A normally talkative and personable woman, she shrank into herself when she moved into assisted living, Silverstein said. There were plenty of regular activities, such as bingo and social events, but his mother wasn’t having any of it.
As someone who personally received plenty of massages, he noticed that geriatric massage wasn’t available at his mother’s facility.
“With all the services and amenities that were offered, the one thing they never offered her was massage therapy,” he said. “I thought odd that the one thing that could help her wasn’t offered, so I decided to do something about it.”
In 2010, he founded Tender Touch For All, a nonprofit that provides on-site massage therapy services to seniors, veterans, and those with disabilities or chronic conditions at their residential or treatment centers.
Tender Touch For All also offers massages to support staff and families on site, usually in a chair or massage desktop portal.
“Nurses, social workers, they have very physically and emotionally demanding jobs,” said Silverstein. “We do a lot of staff appreciation events for people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, built around holidays like National Nurses Week.”
Tender Touch For All services reach 7,500 people annually. Seniors are the largest demographic of massage recipients in the program, but staff reach clients at hospice centers and wellness events, too.
Benefits of MassageMultiple studies indicate the physical benefits of massage therapy in those suffering with osteoarthritis. One particular pilot study done by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed significant improvements in self-reported osteoarthritis-related pain with regular use of Swedish massage.
A 2016 published study also reported knee osteoarthritis pain in elderly reduced with a combination of modalities including massage, yoga, and tai chi.
Aside from alleviating physical pain, massage is thought to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as well.
Facility administrators at sites where Tender Touch For All therapists visit attest to it on a regular basis.
For the last three years, CareRite Centers Network has employed Tender Touch For All therapists at six of its locations. The nursing center’s mission statement embodies the idea of holistic opportunities for its rehab facilities and liked the philosophy behind Tender Touch For All.
Most of all, the stories of healing have cemented the company’s decision to work with the nonprofit, said Ashley Romano, national director of patient experience and research development at CareRite Centers.
“The residents have expressed a reduction in stress and anxiety and enjoy the opportunity to receive non-pharm interventions as part of their regular routine,” said Romano. “Additional benefits have included an increase in appetite and positive displays of behavior.”
Above all, residents always request return visits, said Bonnie Nogin, director of community affairs at CareRite Centers.
“A female resident who was a participant in the spa program and signed up for monthly visits told our recreation therapist that she was going to put on a wig and glasses so she could pretend to be a different person and get two massages that day,” Nogin said.
Other massage recipients can often be moved to tears.
“One family member had been sleeping bed side with her spouse who was terminally ill on hospice care,” said Nogin. “The Tender Touch therapist was spending time with the patient and took the family member aside and said, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been here for the last month and I’d like to offer you a massage to ease your mind.”’
It isn’t uncommon to see interactions like that with therapists and residents, Nogin said, and is one of the joys of working with Tender Touch For All.
Trust MattersWhen massage therapist Lauren Jill Morett-Vij, L.M.T., worked at an adult day care for developmentally disabled adults, she remembers one 70-year-old client who would yell at her to leave the moment she saw Morett-Vij.
Now, she offers hugs and insists on being Morett-Vij’s first massage client of the day. Another client, who has been wheelchair-bound for 40 years, never wants to let go of Morett-Vij’s hands.
For nearly three years, Morett-Vij has worked with the elderly and blind in the Long Island and Queens areas on behalf of Tender Touch For All. She’s also worked wellness events and at a facility for traumatic brain injuries.
“The Tender Touch For All organization is unique, it offers compromised and confined people who would not ordinarily be able to go out and receive this care a personal hands-on experience that benefits their body and soul,” she explained.
Trust, she said, is a big part of that whole-body benefit.
Offering a hand massage first allows her clients to ease into the idea of being touched.
Once trust is established, she’s able to work on other parts of the body more easily.
Witnessing her clients immediately benefit — such as seeing a relaxed smile at the end of a session—is one of Morett-Vij’s favorite parts of the job.
With many clients in wheelchairs or with walkers, it can be hard to imagine a different, younger person. But part of her job is to see the whole person, past and present, which allows her to connect more personally to clients, she said.
One client, an 86-year-old retired librarian once told her: “Every time you massage me you know exactly how to renew me. Your hands are intuitive.”
Responses like that are why Morett-Vij said she is proud to be a part of Tender Touch For All.
“It allows me to be a positive change and benefit in their daily, present life,” she said. “ I enjoy knowing that when I leave my Tender Touch For All patients, I have been instrumental that day in giving them quality of life.”
National ExpansionSilverstein believes massage is good for everybody. He’s seen it personally, and now with his program, he’s witnessed positive changes in thousands of lives.
With that evidence in hand, he hopes to expand the program nationally to reach more people in need of healing human touch.
“My vision is for this to be a national organization,” remarked Silverstein. “We would love to work more with veterans.”
While passion and great therapists drive the program, time and resources also play a factor. The nonprofit survives on grants, program fees and occasional fundraisers, Silverstein said.
The facilities where the therapists visit pay for the program to be brought in, which in turn usually makes the program free to recipients. Sometimes there is a low fee associated with it, but more often than not it is a free service, Silverstein said.
Stress Relief for a Cause is one ingenious fundraiser his marketing team developed.
Tender Touch For All therapists visit a location, such as a college campus during finals week, and offer 10- to 15-minute chair massages. All proceeds benefit Tender Touch For All, and if a location signs up for a minimal monthly program—one therapist for three hours—for 12 months, it can fund a program at a senior care or veterans facility for an entire year.
For Silverstein, offering a holistic option at reduced-rates for vulnerable populations is something he hopes catches on and grows far and wide. While not a massage therapist, he greatly respects the profession.
“I’m just someone who sees the benefits,” he said. “It’s a hands-on approach that makes people healthier physically, mentally and emotionally.”
About the Author
Seraine Page is an award-winning journalist based out of Southwest Florida. She enjoys writing about health, wellness and travel. Her work has been published in Discover Kitsap, AAA Journey Magazine, DAYSPA Magazine, Bainbridge Island Review, and others. She has written many articles for massagemag.com, including “A Whole-Family Model of Massage” and “This is How to Get a Job Working on Olympic Athletes.”