Comfort Touch: Nurturing Acupressure Massage for the Elderly and the Ill - Part One

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 4:55 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)

Comfort Touch:
Nurturing Acupressure Massage for the
Elderly and the Ill
~ Part One ~

by Mary Kathleen Rose

"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."

For more than 12 years now, I have listened to the stories of both the givers and the receivers of Comfort Touch. I am grateful for the many massage therapists and other healthcare providers who have been participants in my classes and contributed to the understanding of this work as I developed it. All have been a part of this journey of discovery about massage with the elderly and the ill.


The Beginning
My story began in 1984. I was a student at the Boulder School of Massage Therapy, and I had decided to practice massage in a skilled nursing facility for my fieldwork placement. Over a period of 10 weeks I had the opportunity to offer massage to many of the residents. They represented a range of ages, physical conditions and emotional states of being. I remember bracing myself for the experience as I walked in the door of the building for the first time, not knowing what to expect, unsure of how I would touch the people I met.

In school I worked with other healthy, and relatively young, people like myself. Now I was confronted with individuals who were in wheelchairs or hospital beds. Some could speak and communicate their needs. Others could not. Some could get around with the help of walkers, others were bedridden, or recovering from strokes or major surgeries. I remember the looks of pain, sadness and loneliness. I remember the ramblings of those suffering with dementia. I remember the sweet smiles of those who were simply grateful that someone looked at them and noticed they were alive. They had no idea what to expect from me. The administration and staff were also unsure if massage would be useful.

And so I began with the notion that they could benefit by being touched. Isn't this a basic human need, as essential as food, water and shelter? An inner compulsion guided me as I met the patients, and I trusted my intuition to let me know how to touch them safely and appropriately.


In 1989, I began to volunteer to give massage to patients of our local hospice, an organization that provides comprehensive, compassionate end-of-life care. Again, as with the residents of the nursing home and clients in my private practice, I found myself responding to the needs of these patients, often with little idea of what approach I would take. There are considerations about the physiological conditions of the elder populations, and/or those living with chronic disease, that require significant adjustments in technique to ensure the massage is both safe and appropriate.

Unlike the work for which most massage therapists are trained, I was working with those who were bedridden or had limited mobility. So I worked with them in their beds at home or in hospital beds if they were in a facility. To be effective in offering touch, as well as to prevent injury or discomfort to my own body, I had to learn how to adjust my core mechanics.

I also developed a greater understanding of the importance of non-verbal communication and how to respond not only to the physiological needs of the client, but to respect the emotional and psychological processes that people are experiencing as they deal with life-threatening illness. Most people who are active in this field also acknowledge the personal work they must do to stay clear in their own boundaries. While offering compassionate care, it is important to take care of one's own emotional being.

Beginning in 1991, the st

aff of HospiceCare of Boulder and Broomfield counties asked me to teach others what I knew about massage in this context. I had spoken with other massage therapists who had offered massage to hospice patients over the years. Our local hospice had been a pioneer in the use of massage and, coupled with graduates of the Boulder School of Massage Therapy, had initiated a program in the late 1970s. But there had been no real supervision or training. Now, as more massage therapists indicated interested in the program, it became obvious that it would be valuable to establish some guidelines and offer specific training. Since that time, I have trained hundreds of massage therapists, as well as other healthcare professionals (from the fields of nursing and physical and occupational therapy) and hospice volunteers in the style of massage that is referred to as Comfort Touch.

~ Page Two ~

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