According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, and the disease is the seventh leading cause of death in adults. With the population aging, some estimate that 16 million people will have Alzheimer’s by 2050. It is estimated that in 25 years, in the United States, everyone will either have Alzheimer’s or be caring for someone with it.
Alzheimer’s disease is a gradual onset, progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior, and reduces the ability to perform activities of daily living. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia include memory loss, confusion, difficulty communicating, disorientation in time and place, mood swings, restlessness, sleeplessness, behavioral disturbances, personality changes and perceptual motor problems. There is no known cause or cure.
Alzheimer’s patients are usually prescribed drugs, but the drugs have limited benefits, and side effects are a major concern. Some patients are benefiting from alternative approaches, including massage therapy. An increasing number of assisted living facilities and clinics provide massage therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Touch in itself is soothing, reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness, and provides a feeling of caring and security. Studies show that senior citizens who are touched on a regular basis are healthier and less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Massage therapy increases body awareness and alertness, and reduces confusion and anxiety. Healing touch builds a sense of closeness and trust, and helps to calm and relax patients. Sometimes even patients who rarely speak will remark on how good the massage feels, or give a smile.
Studies show that massage therapy reduces stress, and that therapeutic touch reduces the level of cortisol, “the stress hormone”, in people with Alzheimer’s disease. A slow stroking massage reduced physical expressions of agitation in one study. Another study found that therapeutic touch produced a noticeable decrease in agitated behavior such as restlessness and disruptive vocalization. These benefits are significant because agitated behavior is difficult for both patients and caregivers, and often results in nursing home placement.
As life expectancy increases, so does the rate of those afflicted: 1 of 10 have Alzheimer’s by age 65, 1 of 2 by age 85. In addition to the huge national cost of care, there is the personal cost for both patient and caregiver. Long term care insurance has been important in providing care for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
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