Massage Therapy Practice in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living

Massage therapy is about wellbeing, and massage therapy in senior communities and nursing homes is about continued well-being. In some ways, it’s a natural extension of what massage therapists are already doing. In other ways, though, it’s a unique discipline. Some residents will be fragile physically. Some will have cognitive challenges. A massage therapist will benefit from specialized training in elder massage. It will also be useful to learn about the nursing home and senior living industries.

Elder Massage: Benefits and Issues

Massage can lessen depression and anxiety and promote restfulness. There is some evidence that it can boost the immune system. Massage techniques may be indicated for medical issues, including pain or circulatory issues, though there are also contraindications. Some medications, for example, make a person’s skin more fragile. Aromatherapy is a potentially useful complementary modality, but has its own contraindications and concerns. In some cases, a massage therapist will need to be in close contact with a patients’ medical practitioner.

In addition to meeting these needs, massage therapists who work in nursing homes are meeting the general human need for touch. Many residents will have lost loved ones. The loss, too, is a healthcare issue as connectedness fosters both physical and mental health.

One population for whom massage has particular value: elders with dementia. Massage therapy may promote restfulness and decrease agitation. There can be challenges of course in working with individuals who can become confused. Some individuals will be more comfortable with hand or foot massage than full-body massage.

Massage therapy sessions provided to frail elderly clients are often shorter. It’s not just a matter of cost and practicality. The individual may become tired or uncomfortable. Some experts consider 30-minute sessions more appropriate physically for this population.

Geriatric massage is often a variant of Swedish massage, with some differences in massage strokes as well as in the pressure applied. A massage therapist who works with elderly clients will need to be sensitive to positioning and to keeping the client comfortable throughout the session. Sometimes massage focuses on the back.

Energy therapies can also be useful.

The Nursing Home and Senior Living Community

Many senior living organizations offer different levels of support to their residents. They may provide independent living options as well as options for those who need personal care and nursing care. Some communities welcome seniors who are active and independent and continue to offer them housing as their needs change; they may be referred to as continuing care retirement communities. A massage therapist may work with elders with very different needs on the same campus.

A community may, on the other hand, provide only skilled nursing services. A massage therapist in this setting would provide services only to individuals with serious health needs, though their diagnoses and prognoses could vary a lot.

Massage therapists may be hired directly by families to provide for individuals. However, the value of massage is recognized to a greater degree than it was in the past, and it’s become common for communities to have ongoing relationships with massage therapists. A massage therapist may be hired by a community or organization or work as a contractor. He or she may have a set number of hours.

Some third party companies specialize in geriatric massage or in general rehabilitation and wellness. These services contract with multiple organizations; they may have teams of massage therapists under their banner.

In some cases, organizations provide massage for “staff appreciation” as well as residents. This can have dual benefits for the organization. Direct care workers and nurses frequently experience job-related stress, and massage is a well-known stress-buster. So, too, a caregiver’s job can be physically demanding, contributing to aches and pains. Massage also has reward value. Nursing facilities typically can’t pay their frontline employees what they’re really worth. The occasional massage session can be a real perk: something the person might not be willing to splurge on. The activity/ recreation schedule may include special events where staff and residents alike can receive massage.

Marketing Oneself to the Senior Living Community

A massage therapist who is self-employed may need to be a savvy marketer! He or she may prepare information folders as well as business cards. Fortunately, communities often have wellness fairs. Experts recommend offering free massages at wellness fairs — and including the wellness director or administrator.

Day Break Massage has provided information about issues a massage therapist should be prepared to address ( Among them are the following: whether the therapist holds certifications specifically in geriatric massage, what conditions he or she has been trained for, and his or her style of interacting with other healthcare professionals.

Geriatric Massage Training

A general massage therapy program may offer some introduction to geriatric massage. More in-depth training is available from continuing education providers.

Training may be offered at more than one level. Classes may be offered as weekend seminars. The following will likely be among the topics presented:

  • The aging process
  • Indications and contraindications for massage with elderly patients
  • Massage techniques used in geriatric massage
  • Hands-on practice with elders
  • Business practices for the elder community
  • Providing massage to elders with particular health issues
  • Wheel chair massage

There are also training programs specifically for dementia. Massage therapists may enroll in separate courses to learn energy techniques or modalities that are far removed from Swedish massage. Some may have cause to seek training in teaching simple modalities to others.