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Massage Today
November, 2009, Vol. 9, Issue 11

Tips From the Field: Creating a Supply Kit

By Ann Catlin, LMT, NCTMB, OTR

"What supplies should I take with me?" I've been asked this question a lot over the years by massage therapists anticipating work in eldercare or hospice settings. This situation is far different from having an office space with all your supplies conveniently available.

Anyone who has ever offered massage at an offsite location can attest to this while lugging bags of supplies, not to mention a massage table, to the site. While you won't need to lug a massage table around when working with people in nursing homes or in hospice care, you will need certain essential items to make it a success. So just what should you take?

The Basics

A bag for your supplies. I know this is obvious, but not just any bag will do. Besides keeping you organized, your bag is a tool for building relationship with your clients. I've found that using the same bag repeatedly creates a consistent identity and helps elders with memory impairment associate the bag with the experience of receiving touch. I recently was at a nursing facility and a woman wheeled herself over just to see my bag because it had cats on it. She is a cat-lover and we had a delightful conversation about her cats as she enjoyed a hand and back massage. So get creative, have some fun, and find something that you enjoy. Shoulder bags, beach bags, roller bags or craft supply bags are all good options.

Supply Kit - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Lightweight folding stool. Space in nursing homes and private homes is limited, and rooms are often cluttered. You will likely be working with someone in a wheelchair or hospital bed. Sometimes there isn't a chair for you to sit on. Other times, there's no place to put a chair even if you had one. A folding stool will be your best friend. You will always have a seat and your body mechanics will most certainly be better than trying to stand or kneel. Look at camping stores, department stores and even arts-and-crafts stores. Tri-fold camp stools and solid-seat stools make good choices.

Unscented massage lotion in pump bottle. Choose lotions that support and nourish thin or dehydrated skin: unscented, hypo-allergenic, nongreasy, pH-balanced and noncomedogenic (won't clog pores). If you have a client for whom you want to use scented lotion, you can add pure essential oils to individual amounts. I don't recommend using massage oil in care settings: It is difficult to control and a drop that accidently finds its way to the floor creates a risk for falls. Lotion is also a more familiar substance for elders and may be more easily accepted.

Bottle holster. Keeping your lotion in a holster while you work eliminates the need to set the bottle on the bed, floor or other surfaces, keeping it cleaner.

Sanitizing gel and disposable wipes. While sanitizing gel can never take the place of hand washing, it is helpful for times when you need to clean your hands or equipment and a sink is not handy. Wipes can be used to clean equipment like bottles or your stool between clients.

Nametag. It is important when working in any health care setting to have proper identification. I love my magnet-backed nametag- no pin holes in my clothes.

Documentation forms or notebook. Completing documentation while on-site will help with time management as well as accurate reporting of each session.

The Extras

Hand-warmer. People with debilitating conditions are often cold. If you tend to have cold hands regularly, or only during cold weather, consider a hand warmer. I use a small flax-filled bag that I microwave to warm my hands. Wrap it in a paper towel to keep it clean. Facility employee break rooms have microwaves and many private residences will as well. Your touch will be much more welcome and your client will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Mild peppermint foot cream. What better way to provide a soothing and uplifting foot massage?

Mild natural topical analgesic. Some clients will benefit from additional pain relief. For example, pain associated with arthritis or sore muscles.

Privacy door-hanger sign. I've found this does two things: it decreases interruptions by staff and it serves as a subtle marketing tool for you. Add your name and logo to the sign and it is a way to increase your visibility to staff, elders and families.

Small CD player or mp3 player. Some clients will have CD players. Choose music that is melodic and relaxing.

Soft fabric squares. Occasionally, you may want to offer a parting gift to bring closure to a session. You can collect inexpensive remnants of soft fabric and cut it into pieces approximately 12 in x 12 in. I find this especially useful for people with dementia to provide an added sensory experience to our session.

Journal or notebook. There are times when you may want to write as a way to care for your own feelings or to capture an uplifting moment. I've sometimes written letters to clients who have made their transition to say goodbye. Other times I write down something that a client said during our session. Taking a moment to write is a way to support yourself and honor your own process in this work.

I asked some colleagues what they carry in their own supply kits. Here is what they shared with me:

Valerie Hartman is a complementary therapy hospice and palliative care nurse. She recommends: a divided bag so you can separate items; disposable pads to place on chair or floor; and aromatherapy supplies (if you are properly trained).

Susan Cunningham, LMT, includes these items when serving home-care hospice patients: paper towels in a zip-lock bag to dry your hands; lint roller (for when you are visited by the friendly family cat); and a small clock.

Annie Roberts, LMT, says, "These are nonessential items but are helpful to me: lightly scented lotions (lavender, orange blossom) for piquing interest in a session, and Dove chocolates that have a "promise" written inside the wrapper, which is a conversation starter. The Junior Mints (like at the movie theater) are small, melt quickly so little risk of choking and make a nice occasional treat. I get permission from the client's nurse before offering these treats in case there are dietary restrictions."

Lee Carpenter, LMT, suggests for clients in a long-term care facility: Tent (or self-standing) appointment cards to leave in your client's room following your visit. On one side: (your name and credentials) was here today (write in today's date) to visit (write in the name of client). The next visit will be (write in date). On the other side, include your contact information and business logo along with some benefits of massage or a quote.

Giving thoughtful attention to creating your own supply kit can enhance the quality of your service while at the same time increase your own enjoyment of your work. I encourage you to get creative, have a little fun, and build a kit that reflects your own style.

Click here for previous articles by Ann Catlin, LMT, NCTMB, OTR.


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