6 Benefits of Massage for Alzheimer’s Patients

6 Benefits of Massage for Alzheimer’s Patients

In our fast paced, digitally enhanced society interpersonal communication has suffered. No longer are people seeking face-to-face connection and, as a result, are rarely getting a chance to touch one another. Whether a hug, handshake or any other appropriate touch Americans have become a culture of hyper-vigilance with many people afraid to simply hold a co-worker’s shoulder in support or pat a student’s head for encouragement.

Lack of touch is also minimal for those in the elderly community, particularly people suffering from cognitive challenges. This community is more “handled” than touched with many underpaid aid workers lifting them on and off the toilet or helping them get dressed.

Now, according to a variety of studies, these 6 benefits of massage for Alzheimer patients show how it is more important than ever to physically connect with this population. It is a simple, inexpensive, gentle approach to alleviating confusion, inspiring awareness and strengthening synapses.

Brain Response

Massage is often associated with a client lying on a soft table in a serene environment such as a spa. Special oils or creams are used along with calming New Age music and some sort of aromatherapy to relax, knead away muscle knots and address injuries.

For those with Alzheimer’s, massage is a different kind of touch. It is about gently stimulating blood flow; instilling “feel good chemical” brain release such as serotonin and dopamine; and reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

Researchers at the Touch Research Institutes, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Florida show in a study abstract published in the International Journal of Neuroscience that,

“In studies in which cortisol was assayed [biochemical measurement] either in saliva or in urine, significant decreases were noted in cortisol levels (averaging decreases 31%). In studies in which the activating neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) were assayed in urine, an average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine. These studies combined suggest the stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences.”

Anywhere by Anyone

Touch for this population should be conducted in any environment that is conducive to the patient’s well being. An Alzheimer patient need not lie on a massage table but can be administered touch while sitting in a chair or lying on a bed.

Massage for Alzheimer’s is a subtle approach that can reap significant results. It can be done anywhere and by anyone because simply lying your hand on the skin signals the brain to respond.

  • Gentle approach – Start with a handshake or shoulder hold and then begin working the hands, arms, neck, etc.
  • Monitor the patient – Always check for a verbal response. If the patient is not able to audibly respond monitor breathing and non-verbal facial reactions.
  • Lubricate – Use hypoallergenic non-scented cream or oil which may help reduce friction (elderly skin is very vulnerable to tearing) as well as moisturize dry areas while enhancing blood flow.
  • Not Too Hard – Be careful not to press too hard unless places like the shoulders or legs can take slightly deeper work.

Study Based Impact

Several studies have shown the enormous benefits of massage in general but when applied to those suffering from cognitive challenges such as Alzheimer’s, the advantages have been noted. Results from these studies cite dementia which Alzheimer’s falls under on a list of many.

Some of these include:

Agitation Relief 

The American Massage Therapy Association reports that,

“A study by Hicks-Moore and Robinson used a repeated measures design to test the effectiveness of favorite music (FM) and hand massage (HM) in reducing agitated behaviors with 41 nursing home residents with mild to moderate dementia…The results suggested that FM and HM individually and combined were effective in significantly decreasing agitation immediately following the intervention, as well as one hour post intervention”

Aggressiveness Reduction

Suffering with Alzheimer’s and many other dementias can be filled with much fear which in turn may lead to violent behavior. Massage has been found to reduce this response in a study by researchers at Hamamatsu University, Shizuoka, Japan. Published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias the abstract states,

“Both the ”aggressiveness” score [] levels decreased significantly after 6 weeks in the tactile massage group. These results suggest that tactile massage reduces aggressiveness and stress level in patients with dementia.”

Better Sleep, More Action

Alzheimer’s and other dementias can rob one of their ability to sleep through the night and/or maintain a desire to stay involved in activities. When massage was administered alongside ear acupuncture researchers from the Department of Medical-Surgical Therapy, Medicine Faculty, Extremadura University, Spain published findings in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine concluding that,

“Massage therapy and ear acupuncture can improve behavior and sleep disturbances, and increase the participation in eating and rehabilitation organized in residential homes, in dementia patients.”

These 6 benefits of massage for Alzheimer patients should convince just about anyone that it is more important to touch someone with Alzheimer’s than to visit them for an attempted friendly conversation.



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