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By Carolyn Crummey, VP of äh Massage

Many activity professionals and other caregivers, understanding how powerful touch is and how wonderful it is to offer this gift and moment of connection, give hand massages to their residents.  While this is a gesture given out of care and compassion, there are many issues that can arise when an individual who is untrained in massage therapy administers any type of massage to an individual, especially someone elderly.  Massage therapists are trained to be aware of health conditions which may interfere with, or be adversely affected by massage.  These conditions are known as contraindications and include conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and skin disorders.  Trained massage therapists are able to administer massage to these individuals by understanding their specific limitations and adjusting their massage to fit the need of the individual without compromising the recipient’s health.   An individual who is not trained in massage and unaware of such contraindications may possibly cause more harm than good, even with a seemingly simple action like a hand massage.

While it is highly suggested to you always use a licensed or certified massage therapist to administer massage to your residents that may not always be an option.  Knowing this, we suggest you offer gentle touch to your resident instead of massage.  Gentle Touch is exactly that – the application of gentle touch and pressure versus kneading and stroking, which is used in standard massage.  It is the process of allowing yourself to connect with the individual that you are applying the touch to in an effort to relax and calm them.  Below we will outline techniques, many of which are derived from a program called Comfort Touch® 1, which will aid you in safely and effectively applying gentle touch.  Gentle touch is comforting and relaxing and will offer your resident that much needed one-on-one time they are craving and you want to give. 1 Comfort Touch – Massage for the Elderly and the Ill by Mary Kathleen Rose.

Applying Gentle Touch

The most important aspect of being able to apply gentle touch effectively is for the person applying the touch be calm and in a positive and caring frame of mind.  Keep your breathing easy and natural.  This allows you to transfer positive and calming energies to the individual being touched.

Sit in a chair or on a stool next to your seated resident.  Make sure your back is straight and that both feet are placed flat on the ground.  Begin by taking the residents hand and softly place it palm down in your hand.  Place your other hand gently on top. Hold this for 5 – 10 seconds allowing the heat from your hands to pass to the hand of your resident.  Be sure to make eye contact with the resident and, if they choose, enjoy a delightful conversation while you apply the gentle touch.

Next move your hands to the resident’s upper arm.  Encompass their arm by placing your thumbs parallel to each other on the arm and fingers spread out like a butterflies wings.  Gently wrap your fingers around the arm allowing the full surface of your hand to contact and encompass the arm.  Make sure your thumbs remain parallel and flat to avoid poking the skin and that your palms make firm contact while the rest of your hand simply wraps around the arm.  Gently squeeze the arm for 2 – 3 seconds, applying very little pressure and making sure your resident is comfortable.  Move down the arm until you get to the hand, holding each placement for 2-3 seconds.

Encompass the hand using the same technique as on the arm, once again making sure your thumbs are parallel and your palms are in full contact with the hand. Gentle apply pressure to the hand and hold for 2-3 seconds.

Apply pressure to the thumb and each finger.  Apply pressure along the top, bottom and sides of the fingers. Hold each pressure point for 2-3 seconds. 

Once you are done with the last finger, take the residents hand and softly place it palm down in your hand.  Place your other hand gently on top, just as you did when you began the gentle touch session.

Repeat the entire process on the other arm and hand.

Touch is a precious age-old gift we all possess.  When given to one we love or care for it becomes a wonderful gift with powers that can heal physically, emotionally and mentally. These powers must be respected and one should always err on the side of caution when applying touch, but should you have the opportunity to comfort someone with gentle touch you will find it a rewarding experience not only for them, but for yourself.

Carolyn Crummey is the Vice President of äh Massage Services, a professional therapeutic massage management company dedicated to bringing the mental and physical benefits of massage on-site to those who have a need but neither the time nor ability to find a qualified provider.  Learn more at

ah massage



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