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Massage Today
January, 2015, Vol. 15, Issue 01 >> Geriatrics & Senior Health

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Ann Catlin, LMT, NCTMB, OTR

Eldercare is a growing area of practice for massage therapists. Even though more nursing homes are adding massage programs, it's still relatively new. Perhaps you've thought about working with seniors in facilities but weren't sure how to approach your local nursing home.

Before proposing your services, be aware of an employer's concerns and how you can be part of a solution. It's important to understand the perspective of leadership in the nursing home. I want to outline the needs or concerns of nursing homes and how your service impacts them.

Nursing homes have activities staff provide leisure and recreational activities for the residents. Nursing homes must meet federal guidelines from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requiring person-centered one-to-one activities for those individuals confined to their room or bed who cannot participate in group activities.

Massage therapy sessions represent an innovative one-to-one bedside activity. Providing documentation of your sessions to the Activity Department helps satisfy this requirement.

Guidelines require care facilities to offer both medication and non-pharmacological treatment options for pain management.

Massage is a well- known treatment for reducing pain. When a nursing home has access to a massage therapist, it helps the organization to demonstrate they are using non-pharmacological treatment options.

seniro couple - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Need
Nursing homes must demonstrate a reduction in the use of antipsychotic medication for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. In 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services developed a national partnership to improve dementia care and optimize behavioral health. This has lead nursing homes to explore non-pharmacologic approaches.

Skilled touch helps to ease distress that leads to challenging behaviors and agitation for those living with dementia and may help reduce antipsychotic medication use.

Nursing homes must offer services that attract customers and referrals. Long term care organizations are very competitive. They need programs that set them apart from others.

Services of a massage professional with specialized skills represent an innovative program that consumers are looking for, giving the facility a marketing edge. This is often the reason massage programs are added. Family members enjoy the positive response of their loved one to this comfort care, leading to greater peace of mind and confidence in their choice of facility.

Facilities must attract and retain staff. Staff turnover and burnout is a huge and costly problem in eldercare.

Increased staff satisfaction. Staff members win in two ways: indirectly, when the elders they care for have fewer complaints and are more content, and directly if they, too, receive an occasional massage, easing caregiver stress.

Nursing homes are challenged to adopt culture change practices. Culture change (also known as person-centered care) is the name of a movement to transform senior services and the long-term care medical model to one that nurtures the human spirit, as well as meeting medical needs.

Having a massage therapy program in place demonstrates the organization's engagement in person-centered care and culture change. The Institute for Caregiver Education identifies massage as a best practice in culture change indicating the following benefits:

  • Fostering well-being without medication.
  • Building strong bonds between caregiver and resident.
  • Reduction in weight loss, pain, agitated behaviors, sleeplessness and falls.
  • Increased resident and staff satisfaction.

An Answer to a Growing Need

Consumers today expect eldercare organizations to provide innovative programs that reflect the changing face of aging. Your services help these organizations be in step with this growing trend while, at the same time, profoundly impacting the well-being of people living in long term care.

Helpful Terminology

Long-term care: This is a general term meaning a variety of services which help meet both the medical and non-medical needs of people with a chronic illness or disability who cannot care for themselves for long periods of time. Assisted Living Facility or Skilled Nursing Facility (nursing home) are two examples.

Activity Professional: This person provides for an ongoing program of activities designed to meet, in accordance with the comprehensive assessment, the interests and the physical, mental and psychosocial well-being of each resident.

Resident: Refers to an individual who resides in a long-term care facility.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: A federal agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services that administers the Medicare program and works in partnership with state governments to administer Medicaid, among other agencies.

Person-centered Care: A journey that moves decision-making directly to the individual despite frailty, cognitive impairment or the location in which services are provided. PCC includes the valuable input of care partners and integrates all aspects of daily life creating environments where people can truly thrive and grow.


  1. Allen, J., (2007) Nursing Home Federal Requirements: Guidelines to Surveyors and Survey, Springer Publishing Company, New York, NY
  2. Kolanowski, A., & Van Haitsma, K. (2013). Promoting positive behavioral health: A nonpharmacologic toolkit for senior living communities.
  3. Bonner, A., (2012) Improving Dementia Care and Reducing Unnecessary Use of Antipsychotic Medications in Nursing Homes. Accessed at
  4. Pioneer Network
  5. Institute for Person-Centered Care.
  6. Institute for Caregiver Education.

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


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