What is Geriatric Massage?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Geriatric massage is a form of massage developed for use on the elderly. This style of massage addresses specific issues common to elderly individuals, such as increased fragility and sensitivity to touch. Massage therapists can pursue certification in geriatric massage, and this style of massage is also sometimes taught to nurses and other care providers who work in hospitals and institutions which care for the elderly.

Many people feel that touch is beneficial, on the basis of their own personal experience. Several studies have also supported the idea that touch can have a positive impact on physical and mental health. Elderly people often feel very isolated and alone, so focused touch from a skilled massage therapist or nurse can help ease depression, stress, and other emotions related to perceived isolation. Touch can also stimulate circulation, boost the immune system, and ease the aches and pains which plague many elderly bodies.

Several issues must be considered when working on the elderly. The first is that elderly bodies tend to be more delicate. Deep tissue work and penetrating massage techniques are not suitable for many geriatric clients, because these styles of massage can cause pain and bruising. Elderly bodies also experience more stiffness and joint problems, and this issue must be taken into account when working with the elderly. The skin of older people is also very fragile, requiring the use of massage oil or cream and gentle massage techniques to avoid tearing or irritation.


The goal of a geriatric massage session is usually to help the client relax, and to increase flexibility and ease joint pain. The massage tends to be very light and gentle, and the massage therapist or nurse stays very attuned to signs that the client might be experiencing discomfort. Sometimes, lightly brushing the skin is enough, while in other cases, slow circular massage moves may be used. Some patients also benefit from the gentle stimulation of pressure points.

Because elderly people tend to get colder more easily than young people, geriatric massage is usually done on a warmed massage table with a thick pad which reduces pressure on protruding bones or healing surgical sites. The client is covered in a lightweight sheet and a blanket by request, and only the portion of the body which is actively being worked on will be exposed. More modest clients may prefer to wear undergarments or even clothes, in which case the massage will be adjusted to the patient's comfort level. Geriatric massage can take place by arrangement in the home, at a massage studio, or in a hospital or long-term care facility.


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Post 5

Comfort Touch is a safe and effective modality for the elderly.

Post 4

Thanks for the insight. I am a massage therapist willing to work with elderly people for personal reasons as my grandmother was always the touchy-feely type of person, so I hate to see the elderly just sitting in a chair at most of these retirement homes, looking all alone.

Post 3

I used to do chair massages for elderly people, and it is really very touching to see how grateful they are for any sort of touch.

So often these people are isolated, without family or any kind of regular, kind and personal touch.

Sure some of them have touch from their nurses, but it's not the same as a massage.

Touch really is such a gift to these people, and it can make such a difference in their (and everyone else's) life.

Post 2

Do you think that you could get some of the benefits of reflexology through a hand massage? I know that many older people cannot handle a body massage, but most could take a gentle hand massage.

Would those benefits still be transmitted to the person?

Post 1

I have a good friend who is a masseuse, and she told me that one of the most demanding parts of massage education is how to do body massages for the elderly.

You not only have to understand neuromuscular therapy, but also how to tailor different touch therapies for elderly patients.

For example, you can almost never do a deep tissue massage on an elderly person; they're just generally too fragile.

However, you can take some of the concepts of deep tissue massage and tweak it to give those same benefits to an elderly person without the intensity of the massage.

All in all, very demanding.

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