When I want to take good care of myself, I schedule a massage. While that may sound indulgent, it turns out that touch has a big impact on quality of life, especially as we age.

Touch is a basic human need. It is believed to be the first sense developed in the womb. When newborns are deprived of touch, their growth is slowed, and serious cognitive and behavioral disorders develop that can persist into adulthood.

As we age, we continue to benefit from being touched. According to researcher David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, the importance of touch endures through the years. “Touch is the social glue that binds parents with children, and sexual partners into lasting couples. Nonsexual social touch connects people in the community and in the workplace, fostering gratitude, sympathy and trust. Doctors who touch their patients are not only considered more caring — their patients have better outcomes.”

Why is touch good for us? It turns out that therapeutic touch, the kind that is delivered by a massage, lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reducing muscle tension. Massage also increases the amount of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which results in bonding between mother and child. When we touch another person, we are tapping into deep associations between touch and emotions that are sparked at birth.

Older adults benefit from massage in many ways.  Studies show that massage slows down brain waves, increases blood flow, and stimulates the immune system, all good for aging bodies and brains. It also is effective at lymph fluid removal and improving flexibility and mobility in joints.

Touch can reduce the risk of falling. As reported in the Dallas News, physical contact releases tension in the tissues covering muscles. “This allows the muscles to move more freely, improving flexibility. Flexibility, in turn, contributes to better balance and allows for greater muscle-strengthening. This combo is critical for fall prevention”, according to Margaret Basiliadis, a family practitioner who specializes in geriatrics.

Anyone who is interested in experiencing massage should attend an upcoming program. At the Integrated Relaxation Therapy workshop, participants will experience the joy of giving and receiving a simple clothed massage, focusing on the back, arms hands, neck and (optional) feet. The workshop will also cover an introduction to essential oils that can help with pain, stress and depression.

The presenter, Susan Kraemer, is certified in massage therapy. She started practicing massage after learning how it helped special needs children. With more experience, she expanded her viewpoint: “now that I have worked with older adults, I understand how massage can benefit anyone, of any age and health condition”.

The Integrated Relaxation Therapy workshop takes place Monday, September 24 from 1:30-2:30pm at Community Thread in Stillwater. It is open to anyone of any age. Caregivers and Personal Care Assistants should attend as well. The participant fee is $10. Register by calling 651-439-7434.

By: Sally Anderson