I sat astride a poof doing massage on the leg of one of my elderly friends. Her heel was resting on the poof and her dress drawn up over her knee. When I had arrived earlier, she was lounging in her chair and eagerly got up and came to the gate to greet me. It was the first time that I had seen her walk. I was asked to do massages for her because she had stopped walking for no apparent reason. After a few weeks of working together, I no longer massaged her in bed as she would be out in the living room when I arrived. I was told that she walks independently. She never volunteered a demonstration and I never requested one. This was not due to lack of interest, but sometimes when there is perceived pressure to achieve a goal, recovery seems to drag on forever. So when it comes to my old friends, I try to keep the moment fun and let the results arise as they may.
As we conversed about the big lizards that darted across the yard, and putting curlers in her hair to pretty her up, another resident asked if it was Christmas as yet. She is someone I had done massages for earlier in the year, but her complaint disappeared and her daughter could find no more reason for her to be massaged so the sessions stopped. Now she looks on as I work with her friend. I told her we still had a few days before Christmas. I asked what she wanted to do for Christmas and she told me nothing. However, had she been in her own home, she would have gone Paranging. She told me that her father came from Venezuela, which I’m supposed to understand validates her involvement in these festivities.
I told her that we could try for something simple, like having one of the male residents dress as Santa Claus for Christmas. She liked that idea and said she wanted to be Mrs. Claus. So I told the men that there was an attractive offer on the table. No one responded. I told them we’d put their names in a bag and the person whose name is pulled will be Santa Claus. No response. I then told them that we’d choose Santa based on height; the tallest person gets to be Santa. No response. The lady then said that if she is Mrs. Santa Claus she would want to make children for Santa too. I laughed…too loud, but that was not the only response to her statement. Heads turned in her direction. The men were listening. The cloud of Alzheimer’s was suddenly lifted from everyone.
Later, when I went inside to sign the time book, one of the Nurses brought it to my attention that it may not be wise to engage the residents in husband/wife conversations as they are already struggling with various degrees of sexuality issues. One of the men likes to peep in the ladies’ room. A leg badly positioned can hold his attention until it changes posture. Another guy in particular, who she feels has a sex demon, gets his satisfaction out of cupping a breast here and squeezing a leg there until someone shouts: Hi! Don’t let him do that to you. This would then get one of the Nurses’ attention. The demon part could be validated when I recall the first week of his arrival. The night Nurse was enraged one morning when I showed up. He had accosted her and had her by the throat and it was another male resident who came to her rescue. They had to tie him to a chair. It was a disturbing sight to see him tied up, but so too were the bruises on the Nurse’s skin. She swore he wanted to kill her, but what this other Nurse was saying is that he may have just gone the aggressive route in an effort to obtain sex. There was yet another incident with that Nurse (seemed he really liked her) then she disappeared. She had insisted that he was psychotic. He was a saint during the day; could barely walk from his bed to the door, soft spoken, and full of compliments, but once the sun went down, he was a different person…a wide-eyed prowler.
So my Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus talk had to be revisited as it could be seen as license to do more touchy-touchy feely-feely at night when there is less staff on duty to maroon their activities. Even some of the men have complained that Mr. Psychotic would go to their beds and feel them, so it is not just the women. The Nurse said that she prays each day before she goes to work just so that the demons keep quiet and there is a harmonious day. But though I have seen this guy rip his clothes and pampers to shreds, I’ve also seen him affectionately hug another resident (female) who was crying because she was hurt – by her daughter’s behaviour. He held her close and they stood there patting on each other’s back forever. It was most touching.
The Nurse also complained about my client, who has recently been up to mischief. She seems particularly attracted to a male resident who she is always inviting into her room. I did remember her seemingly annoyed that he was just sitting there doing nothing. She wanted him to do something. I had asked what she wanted him to do. Nothing. On another occasion she sat on the sofa near him, and as I massaged her legs, she had reached over and was playing with his hair and touching his face. Then her hand descended on his leg and she stroked it back and forth. He had no objections. He sat there smiling. I never heard him speak a straight sentence before that day when he shared with us that a car had hit him on the road and he was sick for a while. The stroking must have stimulated his speech.
As Massage Therapists some of us do not see the value of working with the elderly. It offers no real challenge or glory. But maybe we can consider that the quality of touch they receive from us is different to that experienced with a Nurse. Most of these persons would have lived in their own homes with privacy and various means of dealing with their sexuality. Now they are in Homes where privacy does not exist and even the most introverted occasionally have to make bold moves; like my client who insists that the man follow her into her room. The Nurse said she is in heat. Massage acts as both a sedative and a stimulant, so now that I know that she is ‘in heat’ I will focus future efforts on sedating her, given that the stimulating effects of the massage have done more than make her walk.
Keeping in mind that a Massage Therapist is not a Mascot, we’d need to rethink our position if we’ve been using massage to put on a show. Massaging the elderly may not be flashy, but it certainly reminds us of our morality and mortality. Six, seven, eight decades of walking this planet is a very long time. Let’s use our gift (sometimes) to help smooth out some of the kinks in their lives. And if we are still convinced that working with them does not add value to our lives, we can consider that, as with other clients, our work with them helps us to develop a responsible and professional approach to the use of massage, to develop consultation techniques that enable discussion and planning of treatment, to ascertain their suitability for massage, to adapt the massage procedure to suit their needs, etc. The few strokes that need to be carried out on them can appear less than impressive, but when we think of how it only requires the touch of a switch to flood a room with light, we know that a little could be much. And, given our responsibility to acknowledge and promote equality, then the wrinkled old lady is as entitled to a massage as the robust youth.
We don’t want/like to think of the elderly as sexually active people, so we often don’t consider that they are scheming up ways to either suppress or express their sexual desires. Also, we often don’t consider that when we put our parents/relatives in a Home that they might be sexually abused. It is easier to enquire about provisions for their comfort, and sanitation, than to ask if there is a Village Ram on board. The Nurses have limited responsibilities, and cannot be expected to keep tabs on everyone every minute, especially at night. So our loved ones could be at risk of sexual abuse, but with Alzheimer’s being so rampant, it might be okay as they may never remember to tell us what transpired, and if they do, it could well be a figment of their imagination.
A student spoke of an old lady she knows who lives alone in the countryside. She had expressed sympathy that the woman had no husband and was probably lonely which is not fair as she was such a nice lady. The lady told her that in another time and place, she might not have been considered nice at all. She recounted nights when, a few of the husbands in the neighbourhood would take turns leaving their wives in bed to go outside to use the washroom. While a wife would have rolled over and fallen back to sleep, the husband was nowhere near the washroom. He was in her house getting his groove on. This practice was discrete enough to allow her to conduct regular conversations with the wives during daylight hours. So while some wives might feel threatened by ‘the girl next door,’ it is really granny who they should keep an eye on. Young people did not invent sex, or wrote the book on it, and they certainly can’t monopolize it. Once we set our illusions aside, we’ll see that our senior citizens have bags and bags of tricks. So let’s quit the pretense about their sainthood and properly cater to their needs. Geriatric Massage compensates for some of the experiences they may have had prior to being ousted from their familiar spaces and placed in a Home in the name of what is ‘best’ for them.
One of my friends was dating an elderly gentleman who looks rather good for his age. By his confession, he has been sexually involved with teenagers, but recently decided on having a ‘real woman’ in his life. Over lunch, he intimated that he likes to do everything sexually possible, especially anal penetration, which has to be reciprocated. She was disturbed by his disclosure. The mere thought of being on all-fours made her knees ached; she’s overweight. According to her, he is a very nice old man, but she is very thrown by the anal reciprocation thing, and couldn’t even figure where she would get the appropriate toy to use on him. I reminded her that when a blind man says he would pelt you, he already has a stone. The thing is, sooner or later he’d be added to the population of a Home because his beloved children might think it is best for him. His M.O. would then be watching TBN and ABN in the presence of strangers instead of porn in the privacy of his own home. That can’t be an easy adjustment to make. Would he settle for counting prayer beads, or would his fingers seize every opportunity to poke and prod the residents inappropriately?
We know a man’s face, but never his heart.