Often people in a care home have very little contact with the outside world. This has been especially true of the last few years as the world has grappled with COVID-19.
As their lives slow down and their world becomes smaller, loneliness can become a constant factor. With eyesight and hearing failing, our elders are not able to distract themselves by watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading a book. The days can become long and dreary. How sad it is that people who were once vibrant and socially active have had their existence reduced to a chair in a room.
Human contact is often lacking, which can have psychological and emotional consequences. This is especially true in a long-term care home setting. Often, the only form of touch they receive is from their caregivers, who only have time to help with basic needs and care.
Hand massage is a simple, comforting, and non-invasive way to harness the power of the sense of touch. You don’t need to be experienced in massage.
As the other senses wane, the sense of touch can become even more important for the elderly. Touch can convey comfort, warmth, caring, security, and encouragement. Massage can also help to reduce anxiety or agitated behaviour, relieve tension, and improve blood flow and circulation.
I have personally experienced the profound impact an aromatherapy hand massage can have on care home residents’ moods, not only while I was doing the massage, but also for many hours afterward, as reported by the staff.
Before getting started, make sure the person is sitting comfortably in a chair or lying comfortably if they are unable to sit. Position yourself face-to-face with the person and close enough that you can support their hand and arm without having to pull it toward you.
Here are some simple movements you can use, with photos so you can visualize each step.
Gently pressing your thumb, in a circular motion, on the palm of the hand:
Lightly holding the wrist, and beginning with the baby finger, gently massage each finger and thumb from the base to the tip:
Turn the hand over and lightly massage the top of the hand with your thumbs, first stroking toward the knuckles and then back toward the wrist. Using the palm of your hand, gently massage the top of the hand and wrist in a back and forth and circular motion. Be sure not to pull on the skin:
The massage should be very gentle because the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis) becomes thinner and the blood vessels of the dermis become more fragile as a person ages. The skin is also more dry because as one ages, the sebaceous glands produce less oil.
I spend about 10 minutes per hand, but it is important to be aware of body language, such as pulling the hand away, or if the person becomes agitated. The massage should be relaxed and enjoyable for both the giver and the receiver.
In a 30 ml bottle of natural, unscented lotion or oil, add 6–10 drops of essential oil(s) and blend well. Use about an almond-sized amount of the aromatherapy lotion per hand.
Recommended essential oils and, where relevant, safety precautions:
If possible, you can ask a family member if the person has any favourite scents, or if any aromas remind them of a happy time in their life.
I hope this gives you some guidance as you share some much-needed support with the elders in your life. Your kindness is greatly appreciated, and a testament to the many ways aromatherapy can be a profound gift. Please share your experiences in the comments.
Article by: Colleen Thompson, RA, MIFPA
For over 25 years, Colleen Thompson has been a passionate and highly respected aromatherapy educator. She has owned 3 aromatherapy stores and a holistic spa, and she founded Essence of Thyme in 1995, where she mentors budding aromatherapists from all over the world, helping them create their own thriving aromatherapy businesses.
Essence of Thyme College of Holistic Studies offers 370- and 700-hour professional aromatherapy certification programs that help you grow a successful, fulfilling career by specializing and creating your market niche. Professional Level Certification prepares graduates to become aromatherapy consultants, launch product lines or retail businesses, or provide services as an adjunct to existing holistic health specializations. Master Level Certification and electives are ideal for certified aromatherapists seeking higher education or a path to clinical aromatherapy practice.
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