I massaged my mums hands for 30 minutes and she said one word to me!

For most people reading this the question will be what was that one word?
In fact what she said wasn’t important (it wasn’t ‘stop’ or ‘ow’!!) it was the fact that she attempted to say anything that was so profound.

I’ve been here visiting my mum for 10 days and in that time she has probably said no more than 10 words.

She is suffering from a complex mix of conditions including dementia, a brain tumour and possibly depression. She is well looked after by a live in Carer but rarely speaks.

As a massage therapist I know all too well the power of touch but somehow it’s so much more poignant when it’s the only way to communicate with a loved one. Talking to someone when you get no feedback other than a rare smile or confused look can be incredibly difficult. Are you being heard? If you are is it being understood? And how does the listener feel about what you’re saying….there is something deeply unsatisfying about a one way conversation.

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Talking, going though old photos .. None of these seem to illicit much reaction – but touch does seem to get through (a little). I’ve tried massaging her hands and feet, gently scratching / rubbing her back – even bringing my forehead to hers brings a gentle pushing back and right now any reaction feels like a massive thing.

I feel really fortunate that as a massage therapist touching is ‘very normal’ to me … But if you have elderly parents and aren’t used to touch .. Don’t be afraid to hold a hand or place a hand gently on a shoulder or back. Use what we massage therapists call a ‘listening hand’ and you’ll quickly sense if it’s not what they want … But I’m sure in a majority of cases you’ll feel reconnected and that can be very special no matter how brief.

Mark is a massage therapist at Natural Balance Therapies in Hove. You can read more about him here.