Hands on Dementia

Hands on Dementia  (Using Hand Reflexology to help people diagnoased with Alzheimer's and other types of Dementia) 
Revised Janusary 2021
Originally Published May 2013, in Hebrew, in Dorot (Israel's leading publication for professionals in gerontology and related fields)  
Caregiver giving Hand ReflexologyWhen a family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia, besides the shock and pain of receiving the diagnosis, there is also the feeling of helplessness when the family member or health care worker realizes that there is nothing he or she can do to relieve the situation.  Using Hand Reflexology on persons who have been diagnosed with dementia does not cure the illness, but it does allow the family member or caregiver to actively help.
Oran Aviv, a senior reflexologist and Validation teacher,  gives private reflexology sessions in the Dementia wing of the Kfar Saba Senior Center.  Oran is convinced that hand reflexology offers help to those who have Alzheimer's and other types of dementia.   “In many cases I have seen how hand reflexology helps calm persons diagnosed wtih  dementia, helps them overcome frustration and confusion and even helps them connect to the real world when they seem to have gone over the edge.” 
With these positive results, Jeffrey Leider, the manager of the Kfar Saba Senior Day Center gave the green light to teach live-in caregivers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia basic hand reflexology so they can help their charges at home too. 
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 tomb of the physicians,)  modern day reflexology is attributed to William Reflexology carving found in pyramidsFitzgerald, an American ENT 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?
I have found in my private work with people who have dementia that hand reflexology is more effective and induces deeper relaxation than foot reflexology"
Additionally, Oran observed, "When I originally began giving reflexology sessions at the center to persons diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other dementia, I thought it would be easier to begin with hand reflexology rather than working on their feet because it would be more familiar  and not cause confusion or possibly panic by asking them to remove their shoes" 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 person 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 person with Alzheimer's or other type of dementia much easier and does not cause unnecessary tension or anxiety.  
Graduation of first caregiver's class
What are the benefits? 
The staff of the dementia unit at the Kfar Saba senior day care center takes advantage of having a reflexologist at the center to calm down clients. Instead of having to request that a relative of the client intervene when their family member suffers from serious bouts of anxiety, he or she receives 10 - 20 minutes of hand reflexology, calms down, smiles and happily returns to the activities at the center.    
Besides calming and relaxing those with dementia, sometimes reflexology can also help those seniors who are confused and feeling lost.  Jeffrey remembers “One of our seniors who had been a doctor by profession, suffered from mild cognitive impairment. She was very bright, articulate and participated in all of the activities.   Very suddenly this patient began a rapid deterioration both mentally and physically.  She no longer participated in discussions and group activities, she had difficulties walking and eating and just wanted to sleep and go home.   She began receiving hand reflexology and almost immediately there was an improvement in both her mental and physical state.  She returned to her former self and again participated in activities at the center.”    
Stress and anxiety can also have a negative effect on cognitive ability.  Reflexology can help relieve the stress and thus help improve cognitive ability. Oran gives an example: “An 85 year old American with minor cognitive impairment, decided to move to an Independent Living facility in Israel.  The move caused him great stress, depression and he became confused to such an extent that the facility felt he could no longer live independently and that they could no longer accept him.  After a few sessions of reflexology, the new immigrant began feeling better and his cognitive ability improved.  He now lives happily on his own at the facility.”
Caregiver of 3rd course
 Hand Reflexology Course for Caregivers 
Several years ago Jeffrey Lieder, the Manager of the Kfar Saba Senior Day Center took part in a professional tour of  Day Care facilities in England and France arranged by Yaakov Kabilu of ESHEL. "As advanced as Israel is in treating Alzheimer's 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. 
The center has already sponsored five hand reflexology courses for caregivers.  Participants have included caregivers from the Philippines, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  The 10 week course includes theory, practice sessions, a test and certificates of completion.  The course takes place at the center while the caregivers’ charges are in activities. 
The caregivers report various improvements in their charges.  Many told of using reflexology to prevent anxiety if applied at the first signs of irritability.  Others found that hand reflexology helped their clients sleep better.  Many also found that using hand reflexology improved their relationship with their emplyer.
Surprisingly, almost all of the foreign live-in caregivers in Israel do not receive any training prior to being assigned to work with people with dementia.  Most caregivers have to learn how to handle their charges as they go. The course, besides giving the caregivers tools to calm their charges, also teaches them how to work with people who suffer from dementia plus provides them moral support. 
The training of the foreign caregivers also improves their own feeling of self worth and their tremendous pride is evident when they are rewarded with their certificates of completion at a graduation ceremony at the center.
Other senior facilities in Israel and abroad have organized hand reflexology workshops and courses to teach caregivers this simple, but effective tool to help people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.   Hopefully more senior live-in and day care facilities will understand the importance of using hand reflexology and follow suit.  

Oran Aviv has been a reflexologist for 25 years and has worked with people who have dementia for the past 12.  During the last 6 years she has studied and incorporated Validation into her work.  Validation is a way of communicating with people who have cognitive decline.  Today Oran is a Certified Validation teacher and combines both the principles of hand reflexology and Validation to teach caregivers and senior facility staff around the world. Oran is also the recipient of the Geller Prize for her work helping people with who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.  
To learn more please follow us on:  email:   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   
Workshop info:     http://www.reflexandmore.com/en/courses/103-hands-on-dementia 
 For more information or to arrange a workshop or webinar please contact Oran at: (053)5533856 or write to her at:   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Photo of eBook Beyond Words
Oran’s first book, Beyond Words, Using Hand Reflexology to Help Your Loved One with Dementia, is soon coming out as an eBook for family caregivers.  Please contact us at   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  if you would like to be notified when the eBook will be availalbe. 


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