Caregivers Learn Hand Reflexology to help patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia

​​​​​​​Caregivers Learn Hand Reflexology​
​to Help Patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia​
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​​​​​​​Published in Hebrew March 2009 in "Gimlaton"
Published in English June 2012 in "The Reflexology Association of America's Magazine" 

​​​​​​​​​​On Thursday Feb. 21st, there was an unusual celebration at the Kfar Saba Senior Day Care center.   At a party with all the seniors at the center, eight caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia received their certificates for completing a course in Hand Reflexology for Patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia.

The eight foreign caregivers, from the Philippines, Indian and Nepal are all live-in caregivers for patients with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.   The caregivers participated in the Hand Reflexology course at the Kfar Saba Senior Day Center while their charges were participating in activities at the center's dementia wing.  They met weekly for classes and then practiced on themselves, friends and eventually as they became proficient, on their charges. 

What is Reflexology? 

 

 

 

Although Reflexology has been used for hundreds of years (evidence of Reflexology in ancient Egypt is found in a hieroglyphic drawing in the doctor's tomb,)  modern day Reflexology is contributed to William Fitzgerald, an American

 

Physician who discovered the correlation between reflex points in the hands and feet with the whole body.  Fitzgerald found that by working reflex points in the hands and feet one can help the whole body heal itself.

 

 

 

Reflexology is a relaxing treatment that reduces stress and thus induces healing.  A Reflexologist uses her thumbs and fingers to apply pressure to the different Reflex points on the hands and feet.   By doing so, Reflexology can help the body heal itself of a wide range of health imbalances.

 

     
Why Hand Reflexology?

Oran Aviv, a senior Reflexologist and graduate of the Israel Alzheimer's Activity Project Course, teaches memory games and gives private Reflexology sessions in the Dementia wing of the Kfar Saba Senior Center where she.  Oran also taught the Hand Reflexology Course to the caregivers.

"When I originally began giving Reflexology sessions to the patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia I thought it would be easier to begin with Hand Reflexology rather than working their feet because it would be easier for the patient with Dementia" tells Oran.  "I thought that after a few sessions, if the client felt comfortable, I would switch to foot Reflexology, but the results from hand Reflexology were so good I decided to continue just with the hands." 

For a patient with Alzheimer's/Dementia the world can sometimes be very frightening.   Introducing something like Reflexology has to be done in a manner that is comfortable and not threatening.   When performing Hand Reflexology the Reflexologist and client sit across from each other on chairs.  There is constant facial contact and they can speak to each other.   This makes giving Reflexology to the patient with Alzheimer's/Dementia much easier and does not cause unnecessary tension or anxiety.  

The idea of teaching Caregivers Hand Reflexology

Two years ago JDC-ESHEL- The Association of the Planning and Development for services for the Aged in Israel developed a pilot program to train Day Center staff in the basics of Aromatherapy. Four staff members of the Kfar Saba Day Center participated in the program. The Day Center then implemented the program by leading both group and private sessions of simple hand massage. "When Oran offered her expertise in Reflexology and volunteered her professional knowledge and training to expand and improve the program it was a perfect fit" says Jeffrey Lieder, the Manager of the Day Center.  

Jeffrey had recently returned from a professional tour of Day Care facilities in England and France. "As advanced as Israel is in treating Alzheimer patients, the Europeans place a greater emphasis supporting the caregivers."  The caregivers are those closest to the patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia and probably know their moods best.  Jeffrey thought that the caregivers would be the ones who would be able to give Hand Reflexology to their charges on a regular basis. 

What are the benefits? 

The caregivers reported various improvements in their charges.  Many told of using Reflexology to prevent anxiety if applied at the first signs of irritability.   One woman with dementia suffered from great irritability and anxiety everyday in the late afternoon – a condition in dementia patients known as "sundowning".   The family of the caregiver's charge had paid a friend to come over and talk to this woman at this time of day in an attempt to keep her from getting too irritable.  The caregiver reported that since she began giving Hand Reflexology to her charge when she wakes up from her nap, the woman is no longer irritable in the afternoons and the family no longer needs to pay for this additional person to come. 

The caregivers also found that Hand Reflexology helped the patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia sleep better.   One woman with dementia began sleeping 7 – 8 hours at night, where before receiving Hand Reflexology she only slept 5 hours a night.   The caregiver welcomed more sleep for herself as well and found that her charge was less irritable and was fonder of her caregiver.  Where in the past – the caregiver's charge would tell her to "Go away", she now told her that she loved her and that she was like her "doctor" because she made her feel better.

 Another caregiver reported that her charge had an improvement in her digestive system.  Before Hand Reflexology this women suffered from constipation and would only go to the bathroom 2 times a week.  Since the caregiver began giving her Hand Reflexology, the woman she is in charge of now has a bowel movement regularly every day.

 One caregiver felt an improvement in the condition of her charge who has more advanced stage Alzheimer's.  She was able to let her charge feed herself for the first time.  Until then the caregiver has had to spoon feed her. 

 Not all of the caregivers saw drastic improvements in their charges and some of the patient's with Alzheimer's/ Dementia did not want Hand Reflexology.  Some of the caregivers were very creative in finding ways to give Hand Reflexology – such as giving short Hand Reflexology while they washed their charge's hands or cut their fingernails.

 A side benefit of the course is the emotional support the foreign workers gained in the learning experience. They reported feeling more valued and appreciated by their employers.  

 Many of the caregivers asked to learn specific reflex points that might help some of their own health issues or those of their families. Many of them were happy to learn how to relieve lower back pain which many of them suffer from the physical labor involved in their job.  One caregiver from the Philippines asked how to use Reflexology to relieve her daughter's headaches.  She has not seen her 13 year old daughter in 3 years.  

The investment made in training the foreign workers improved their feeling of self worth and their tremendous pride was evident to all when they were rewarded with their certificates.

 Future

Hopefully this will be the first of more Hand Reflexology courses for caregivers.  The center is also considering opening a course to teach Hand Reflexology to spouses and family members of patients with Alzheimer's/Dementia.

Treating and dealing with Alzheimer's/Dementia is one of the more daunting tasks of our generation. Society must be willing to explore any and all avenues in its search for solutions. It is critical that we allow the patient to guide us.

 OranAviv also works at her private clinic in Kfar Saba.  She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (057)5533856

The Kfar Saba Senior Day Center is located at 4 Tel Hai.  For more information about their programs please call: (09)767-5001

 

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