Gentle Touch Massage Provides Comfort, Care, Compassion 30 Minutes at a Time

When licensed massage therapist Denise D’Angelo Steele arrives on the Palliative Care Unit, many families are pleased to see her, but have mixed feelings. Often their loved one is sleeping more, less responsive or no longer interacting with them.

Denise explains to the family what gentle touch massage is and how it helps. It’s a light, soothing touch massage primarily focused on the hands, shoulders and scalp area. Despite a patient’s compromised condition, these areas are the most responsive to massage. A gentle touch massage can help muscles and nerves relax and release tension. It works in conjunction with medications to keep a patient comfortable and help to alleviate pain, which can promote the sleep and relaxation that families often notice.

Sometimes massage provides an extra benefit. Denise recalls a time that she entered the room of a man in his late 60s. He was a husband, father, and a “do-it-yourself” kind of guy. One day he was mowing his lawn when he suffered a brain aneurysm and fell onto the sidewalk. After emergency head surgery, he was admitted to the Palliative Care Unit, unresponsive. When Denise arrived and introduced herself and the purpose of her visit, the family admitted he always liked a “good back or head massage.”

Since his accident, they hadn’t seen him move his eyes or make a sound, but they welcomed Denise’s comforting touch. When she started massaging his scalp, he began to make sounds. As she continued, his responses grew stronger. She brought the family over to hold his hand and asked them to “take over” the massage. Suddenly the patient opened his eyes, smiled and recognized them.

According to Denise, it wasn’t a huge “miracle moment” since he didn’t get out of bed and walk, but when she left the room it was filled with laughter and tears and lots of interaction with the patient. “It was a much more positive atmosphere than when I first walked in,” she said, “and instead of everyone being on the opposite side of the room, they were at his bedside, laughing. This happens frequently and may be the first contact the family has had with the patient in days.”

Experiences like this remind us of the power of human touch. And though not everyone is fortunate enough to have family at the bedside, through the Gentle Touch Massage program, Denise is able to provide 30 minutes of comforting touch that patients may not have otherwise.

The Gentle Touch Massage program is available to our patients through generous donations to the Mount Carmel Foundation.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 Inspire Newsletter.