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Reflexology for Nursing Home Residents with Mild Dementia – Information for carers and nursing staff

By Deborah Watts
from Reflexation

About 36 million people live with dementia worldwide and the World Health Organisation predicts 66 million will have dementia by 2030 and more than 115 million in 2050, which will impact on all health systems worldwide.

What can Reflexology offer to make a positive difference to someone living with dementia? There are a growing number of research studies and trials in relation to reflexology. One paper by Nancy A Hodgson RN PHD CS, and Susan Andersen, B.S., C.H.E.S The clinical efficacy of reflexology in nursing home residents with dementia, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2008;14(3) indicated “the findings support preliminary evidence that reflexology treatments may be beneficial in the management of distress in nursing home residents with mild to moderate stage dementia”.

Nancy’s results demonstrated a significantly greater decrease in symptoms of pain, depression and physiologic measures of stress for the residents given reflexology treatment, than for those in the control group. The conclusion was that “these clinical findings support the use of reflexology in nursing home residents with mild/moderate dementia.”

Dementia can also include Alzheimer’s disease and every condition experienced can have the potential to respond favourably to a therapeutic and loving touch.

My experience is that there are many stages of dementia. Some patients are aware of their slow decline in cognition while other patients experience a rapid decline. Some can suffer audible or visual hallucinations and delusions, causing severe fear and anxiety. Some confabulate and truly believe what they are recalling. Some may not communicate at all.

There is nearly always an underlying depression or anxiety as well. As the disease progresses, simple communication can be difficult. Patients can also become disorientated, agitated, non-compliant and unsettled.

If you work in a nursing home, are caring for a loved one with dementia or are a massage therapist, you should consider this wonderful therapy for people living with dementia.

As a Reflexologist, I can attest to the efficacy of calming the emotions of a dementia patient in a nursing home environment.  Recently I had a moving experience with my 89 year old father-in-law when visiting him in the nursing home.  When we arrived he was upset, confused, extremely agitated and non-compliant with nursing staff. After 10 minutes of giving him the loving touch of hand reflexology he was settled, calm with eyes closed, then sleeping.  Nursing staff were amazed at the change in him in such a short period of time.

Foot Reflexology or Hand Reflexology?

Confused older people living with dementia may become distressed if their shoes and socks are removed for foot reflexology.

The hands, however, are a natural option to comfort and massage, especially if a carer or relative is involved.


Hand Reflexology is the better option, rather than foot reflexology and is much gentler for the dementia patient. Reflex points on the hands can be worked frequently and without side effects.  It can be gently introduced to the patient as no items of clothing or shoes need to be removed. This treatment is non-invasive, and this loving touch is very relaxing and therapeutic for the elderly. It may even calm the mind and emotions, especially for patients suffering from anxiety.

A reflexologist can discretely work all the systems of the body whilst performing gentle and specific reflexology massage. It may also relieve any aches and pains they have. This will give them a better feeling of wellbeing, which may in turn lift their mood. Never underestimate the power of therapeutic touch.

Deborah offers short training sessions on hand reflexology for therapists, relatives, carers and nursing staff. She demonstrates simple but effective hand techniques, together with methods of helping relax and calm a person living with dementia.

Some relatives feel powerless when visiting their loved ones who do not respond or communicate easily. Nursing staff may gain valuable techniques to use in various situations, when the person may become distressed, anxious or agitated.

Dementia is one of the greatest medical challenges of the 21st century and I believe that the complementary therapy of reflexology should be considered, alongside other modalities and treatments. It offers valuable support to dementia patents and those who care for them.


  1. Booth, Lynne HMAR Reflexology and Dementia paper
  2. Hodgson, Nancy A, RN, PhD, CS: Andersen S The clinical efficacy of reflexology in nursing home residents with dementia The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2008; 14(3)

More about the author

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts
– Reflexation

Deborah Watts is an accredited practitioner specialising in Reflexology, having established her clinic at Picnic Point, New South Wales in 2002.  Reflexation Natural Therapies has been in continual operation since its inception.

Deborah is an accredited professional member and Fellow of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS) and the International Council of Reflexologists (ICR). She is also a professional Reiki practitioner with the Australian Reiki Connection (ARC). Additionally, Deborah is a long-term member of the Canterbury Bankstown Chamber of Commerce (CBCC).

Deborah has a Diploma of Reflexology and has trained with internationally renowned reflexologists from Denmark, U.K., Sweden, Canada, Sth Africa and Germany. She has also studied reflexology for cancer care therapy with Marie Duggan UK, which equips her and other reflexologists to perform volunteer work with patients at the late Professor Chris O’Brien’s Lifehouse Cancer Centre at RPA. She has undertaken advanced training in Maternity Reflexology, biomechanical assessments and advanced orthotic therapy.

She holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment which equips her to teach her therapies in colleges and a variety of training environments. She conducts educational and instructional workshops on Foot Reflexology, Hand Reflexology and Indian Head Neck & Shoulder massage at a college as well as her Picnic Point clinic.  These courses have been designed by her.

In addition, Deborah conducts corporate information sessions on the benefits of natural therapies, including Reflexology and regularly attends speaking engagements with various community groups on a voluntary basis.

She operates her Picnic Point clinic fulltime with the majority of her clients attending clinic for Reflexology.  She also offers Indian Head Neck & Shoulder Massage and Reiki at her clinic, as well as conducting biomechanical assessments and prescribing foot orthotics.

Her vision is to contribute to, and educate consumers in, the improvement of their health and wellbeing. Deborah also aims to educate people on taking responsibility for their own health.

Deborah’s multicultural client database comprises children and both men and women of various ages with her oldest client being 87 years of age.

Achievements and recognition of her business include:

  • Winning awards in the 2020, 2018, 2017 and 2015 Local Business Awards and four times finalist in Business of the Year in 2020, 2018, 2017 & 2015
  • “Highly Commended” Award as “Practitioner of the Year” in the ATMS + Nature & Health Industry Awards (Australia wide)
  • 2018, 2020 Finalist in Western Sydney Awards for Business Excellence (WSABE)
  • One of three finalists in the News Limited GoWest Champions of the West Awards - category of Small Business
  • Eight times finalist in the Australian Small Business Champion Awards
  • Eight times finalist in both the Local Business Awards and category of Business Person of the Year

Additionally, Deborah is passionate about the benefits of reflexology for consumers and continually promotes the modality in all forums.  She actively takes the opportunity to promote her modality and increase awareness of the natural medicine industry at business chamber events and business award functions. Her professional learning and interaction with international therapists, brings the latest techniques in reflexology to her local clients, with no additional cost.

Deborah first discovered Reflexology while studying massage: it was love at first sight!. She was then determined to include this modality in her life and share this therapy with everyone. Beyond her extensive therapy training and advanced orthotic therapy, she draws upon her additional corporate training in project management, workplace health and safety, internal quality auditing, policies/procedures, legal administration, marketing and acquired communication skills across her previous areas of tertiary employment.

Reflexation at Picnic Point has demonstrated business excellence as evidenced by both the awards achieved and continued positive testimonials from clients, students and natural therapy practitioners.