Aging Bodies Need Comfort Too

Water has figured prominently in my thoughts all week: hot baths, hot tubs, whirlpools, spas and the like.

I struck up a perfunctory conversation with a physical therapist this past week. He began our dialogue as if I was no more than nuisance d’jour, but at some point deciding that I warranted interest, the therapist began enthusiastically sharing his dream of having a full-sized pool where clients could receive hydrotherapy.

In turn, I shared a vintage dream of my own that my elderly clients could soak in invigorating waters on a regular basis, increasing circulation and most important of all, reviving their weary souls.

Several days later, I was talking with a friend about his recent experience going to a spa. He said prior to this experience his preconception was that spas are mostly something for women (not men) and how by the end of the day he’d been cured of that silly notion. He spoke of how wonderful it was to sit with other men in the hot tubs soaking away the headaches and muscle aches of harried lives.

We mused on how ancient cultures seemed more comfortable with men being together while soaking in healing waters. I found myself back in time to Havasupai, Arizona 1972. Two of us, surrounded by Supai elders in a mud sweat lodge at the outskirts of the village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A river ran by it.

I can still see the faces of the old men dripping sweat, chanting pouring water on the limestone rocks glowing over chunks of juniper and cedarwood. They loved being together, these old men covered in mud. Sure beat the hell out of bingo! When they’d had enough, they would jump in the ice-cold water of the river, then go back in and chant and sweat some more.

Contrasted in my mind was the vision of thousands of men I’ve seen over 30 years, wasting away in nursing homes, crippled from inactivity, sitting in wheel chairs, begging to go to bed or to the bathroom. What a shame that so many aging men and women in our culture find themselves alone, disconnected and missing the basic physical comforts the rest of us take for granted… like a bath or a massage.

Ed was one happy exception. He had a daughter who understood how to properly honor and minister to an old man.

Sandra was a holistic health practitioner from Australia and well versed in alternative therapies. She came to visit her dad once a month for over a year, flying out from North Carolina to be with him at the nursing home where he spent the last part of his life. In her bag of tricks, there were always various tinctures and oils, lotions and potions to rub on her father’s sore joints and dry skin. She had Bach Flower Remedies to dab on and to drink.

She loved to rub his feet and he loved to have them rubbed. When she was not with him she had a masseuse come once a week to give him a full body massage. Afterward, he would fall into a deep sleep smelling of lavender or roses. Oh, what a lucky man he was.

Of course, it’s impractical to expect that many of the elderly will be able to have full-body massages or access to hot tubs or sweat lodges but more could easily avail themselves of the benefits of healing touch if a family member decided to get a little creative.

Next time you go see an aging parent or a family member or friend, offer to give them a little scalp massage or back rub. Don’t be afraid to touch them. If they’ll let you, hug them, hold them and kiss them. Soak their feet. Bring them the fragrance of flowers.

As a care manager, I have seen at any age how getting physical can be the most powerful medicine.

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