How Geriatric Massage Therapy Can Help Improve the Quality of Life for Seniors

From Reducing Pain to Improving Balance, Massage Has Big Benefits for Older Adults

To get older is a privilege. But it’s not always comfortable—years of adventure take their toll on the body and on the mind. As the decades add up,are so do the aches and pains. 

To care for a person as they get older is a privilege, too. Working with elderly clients is a rewarding and challenging opportunity for thoughtful, compassionate massage therapists. Massage therapy offers a wide range of benefits for geriatric patients. 

And because the Canadian population is aging, the demand for RMTs who have experience treating older clients is growing. As of 2020, almost 20% of all Canadians were 65 years old or older, and this percentage is expected to continue rising. Many of these people have been getting massages regularly for years, while some are new to massage but likely to seek it out as their needs change. 

What is geriatric massage and what is it good for? 

Older people visit their massage therapist for the same reason as everyone else does: to maintain or improve their physical and mental health so that they can enjoy a full life and do the things they love. 

Geriatric massage therapy is the modification of fundamental massage therapy principles, techniques, and treatments to meet the specialized needs of older clients. 

Most statistical research (like the census) defines elderly people or seniors as people who are 65 years old or older. But anyone who’s ever had an 80-year-old power walker breeze past them on the trail knows that age is just a number. Nobody experiences aging in the same way, and how many candles there are on your birthday cake doesn’t determine how healthy you are. 

A well-trained massage therapist will assess and treat their clients based on their individual needs and circumstances. As people age—particularly from the mid-60s on—their bodies change and so do their massage therapy needs. 

Even healthy older people experience changes like decreased bone density and loss of muscle mass. To accommodate these needs, the RMT can adapt many parts of the treatment, including types of strokes, body positioning, pressure, and length of treatment. 

As people age, they also become more prone to certain conditions and illnesses. Again, a good massage therapist has the knowledge and the skills to adapt their treatment accordingly. For example, they will be able to position someone with osteoporosis so that they’re comfortable, and know what areas require lighter pressure. 

And the RMT’s expertise goes beyond just knowing how to adapt a treatment for comfort and safety. The general benefits of massage therapy can make a huge difference in quality of life for older people, and massage can treat many of the conditions associated with aging. 

Massage therapy can: 

  • Increase range of motion and joint mobility 
  • Reduce anxiety and depression 
  • Improve vitality and reported quality of life 
  • Decrease pain and stiffness and improve joint function in osteoarthritis patients 
  • Reduce agitation, stress, and restlessness and improve communication skills in patients with dementia 
  • Improved sleep and improved activities of daily living in patients with Parkinson disease 
  • Decrease pain and improve recovery after surgery, including cardiac surgery and joint replacement surgery 

The mental health benefits of therapeutic touch are well-documented too, especially for seniors who live alone or in long-term care facilities. 

Why pursue a career in geriatric massage? 

There are as many reasons to become a massage therapist as there are massage therapists in the world. The students who pass through our doors at MH Vicars School share their inspirations and goals with us, and they’re as specific and individual as our students are. But there are common threads, too: many students have experienced the transformative effects of good massage therapy for themselves and want to be able to share those benefits with others; many want to a flexible career that will allow them to balance work and family, and they all want an active career working face-to-face with others. 

But the number one thing that every MH Vicars student and graduate has in common is a powerful desire to help others. Massage therapy is about healing. Every day and every client is an opportunity to make a difference. 

Practicing geriatric massage can be challenging, and it takes patience and compassion. But it’s also immensely rewarding. Because older people tend to have more complex medical needs than younger clients, the benefits they get from massage can be especially important. By helping your client sleep better, regain their range of motion, or feel less isolated, you can transform their quality of life and help them stay active and independent. 

The population of Canadians who are 65+ are an incredibly diverse group, and as a result geriatric massage is a diverse field. Some RMTs will go out of their way to develop an elderly client base and regularly visit long-term care and supportive living facilities as well as marketing to an older client base. Other therapists keep their practices more general but have the training to provide safe and effective treatments for their elderly clients. 

Vicars students learn geriatric massage, as well how to assess and treat a wide variety of conditions and diseases that are common in older adults. Our students work with clients of all ages at our supervised practicum clinics on campus. The school also organizes clinic visits to long-term care facilities in Edmonton and Calgary. 

If you aspire to help others live their best lives—at every age—massage training may be the perfect fit for you. We offer a unique blended-learning format to make training with us as convenient as possible. Speak to our knowledgeable Admissions team at 1-866-491-0574, or  RSVP to our live virtual open house to learn more about our Edmonton and Calgary massage therapy school campuses. 

Robin Collum
Author: Robin Collum