Updated: Feb 22
Reflexology is not a cure for Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, but it can improve the wellbeing of a person who is confused and/or has cognitive decline.
For 12 years we have used hand reflexology to help people who have been diagnosed with dementia and have seen how reflexology calms, helps overcome frustration and confusion and has even helped people connect back to the present. From our experience we have found that there are three main areas where reflexology can help:
1. Reflexology Calms –
One of the major benefits of Reflexology is that it induces relaxation. When given regularly, reflexology helps people relax and feel more calm. Dealing with memory loss and/or confusion is extremely stressful and can easily cause anxiety. Reflexology can prevent and reduce this anxiety. It is important to give reflexology at the first sign of agitation and not wait till a person is in a state of anxiety or panic when they may not want to be touched. We have seen that regular, short hand reflexology sessions can reduce distress during sundowning. (Sundowning is a term used to describe late day confusion and/or agitation.)
2. Reflexology Can Reduce Cognitive Decline Due to Stress -
When we are stressed, we have trouble thinking. Many of us have experienced going blank before a test or before going on stage. How many times when we are in a rush to get out of the house, we can't remember where we put our keys or wallet! This is due to stress preventing our brain cells from working properly. If we can reduce the stress, our brain can work better again.
Now imagine if you were suffering from memory loss and/or confusion how stressful that must be. The stress from the situation could cause more memory loss! If an additional stress factor is added, such as a moving to a new home or facility, this can cause much more increased memory loss and confusion. Here is where reflexology can be so significant. It can reduce the stress and thus reduce the memory loss associated with this stress. It is sad that often more memory loss and/or confusion is accepted as a progression of dementia, when it can actually be helped by stress reduction!
We have also found that reflexology can help a person with memory loss and confusion acclimate easier to to their new surroundings, such as a new facility.
3. Reflexology Can Connect -
Touch can connect with a person at a deeper level and reflexology can be the guide to help someone return to reality when they seem lost. Reflexology has helped people who suffer from depression. As one person wrote about receiving reflexology while hospitalized for depression: "you brought life back into my body and soul just with your touch." When a person is in a state of confusion and/or depression, sometimes words are not enough. Besides feeling the physical touch, reflexology creates a deep inner connection with a person who is confused. Reflexology sends a lifeline that the person can use to find their way back to reality. Reflexology can allow the person who is confused to feel safe again knowing someone is there who cares.
Live-in Caregivers, who have learned hand reflexology have reported that reflexology:
•Induces better sleep
•Helps with digestion issues
•Creates a better relationship between caregiver and client
Nursing home staff who have learned hand reflexology have reported that reflexology:
•Allows better participation in activities
•May reduce amount of medication
•Relaxes muscles (especially for people who have Parkinson’s)
•Promotes better digestion
•Allows for easier adaptation to the facility
Reflexology is a simple, safe, yet effective method that should be taught and used by caregivers and senior facility staff to help calm and connect with those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. It can be especially helpful for new residents to adapt to their new surroundings. Every senior facility should have a reflexologist on staff to help reduce residents' anxiety and help them feel safe.
Oran Aviv has been a reflexologist for 25 years and is also a Certified Validation teacher. She combines both the principles of hand reflexology and Validation to teach caregivers and senior facility staff around the world.
You can follow Oran on:
Facebook: Reflexology – Oran Aviv and see notifications of her future blogs
Youtube – Oran Aviv Reflex and More and learn how you can use hand reflexology for self care
Oran is also the author of Hands-on Dementia for Caregivers, a step by step guide to learn 3 reflex points to help your loved one and yourself
To learn more: Hands-on Dementia eBook for caregivers