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Supportive Reflexology

Supportive Reflexology: Valuing Age, Dementia and Down’s Syndrome.

I was warmly welcomed last night to offer my regular session of supportive Functional Reflex Therapy reflexology to a very vulnerable bedridden client with Down’s Syndrome and Dementia. I know how privileged I feel when I work with this beautiful soul, whom I have been visiting regularly for over 10 years.

Supportive Reflexology

With diagnosis and labels aside ( although you may like to follow the links at the end of the article for more information) using a variety of supportive methods and sometimes even slightly adapting our usual reflexology therapy tools and our approach, we can meet individual needs and offer valuable therapy to allow the many benefits of reflexology to be accessible to all.

Like many of us working with and supporting clients and family members with dementia, I am never quite sure what I may face on arrival, so my therapy session is always flexible and very much ‘in the moment’.

I know there may be many variables here that will influence how the session develops which may lead you to judge the session and question ‘reflexology’. But the intention of my session is always for my client to receive and enjoy the touch and that I leave her in a more relaxed, happy and calm state. The music I use is the same on every visit, many years ago we established a piece that she enjoyed and now that she has very little communication I am hoping she still enjoys the sound and that it helps her to recognise what is going to happen and helps her prepare, even if on occasions she does not recognise me, she seems to welcome the music.

I always start with the same preparation and communicate in the same way; I wear the same colour poloshirt and use the same colour towel that I have used for 10 years, I hope it helps with her recognition specific for this session. Placing of my hands on her hands with an explanation of what I am going to do, last night we had a little sing song too as I said hello! (something I use with old and young alike, have you ever tried singing with your clients?) I’m not the most musical person but she does always look towards me and gives some pleasant sounds almost as if she is trying to sing along, so that will do me. Giving the time, providing gentle repetitive, rhythmical relaxation reflexology movements is so very valuable to meet this client’s needs.

The fingers tightly gripping the bed cover on my arrival, begin to unfold, she relaxes a little and I am able to slip the towel underneath to protect the bedding, adding balm and delivering some lovely slow sweeping movements up her lower arms to begin the session. She took a few lovely big breaths during the 20minutes I worked with her, opening her eyes wide on a couple of occasions, and at other times softly closing them, she stretched out her fingers and even managed to say, “I like this”.

A truly special moment for me, it doesn’t often happen, quite a tear-jerker for the support staff and it provided us with something lovely to share with family members.

I think it does highlight the value of positive touch but also the importance for us all about being respectful for those people living with dementia. ‘In the moment’ being the most valuable thing to consider. We can never say when that moment will happen, when they will be with you, when they will understand and perhaps give meaning to what you are saying or doing.

How does it work? We see it, but how do we explain it? ‘Gosh’ I’m barely beginning with my understanding of the limbic brain, the nervous system and the many pathways! I have so much learning to do. But I see that receiving the pleasurable touch of this therapeutic intervention, encourages relaxation, I witness the softening of rigid fingers, I witness the reduction of spasms and cramps, I hear the deepening of the breath and as on this occasion I receive a small comment. Perhaps it’s the methods and techniques we bring into our sessions, perhaps it is the increase of the happy hormone of serotonin, maybe the increase of the pleasure hormone of dopamine, maybe we augment the release of oxytocin encouraging the body to be calm and to trust the receiving of the therapy, which encourages the body to reduce in anxiety and perhaps a combination of all these and more. (All this will be for further discussion, and something we begin to talk about during FRT CPD training for reflexologists.)  

There are so many wonderful methods of reflexology that we can incorporate, encouraging the body to relax and to bring about a feeling of well-being even if this is ‘in the moment’ and many being valuable for older age and for vulnerable clients with dementia. I highlight the lovely work of my reflexology colleague Lynne Booth here is a link. After training with Lynne many years ago I draw on Lynne’s methods and techniques often during my sessions, with children and adults they provide a beautiful gentle beneficial approach.    


I would love to hear about your therapy work, methods that you incorporate into your therapy sessions and how you support vulnerable adults with learning difficulties, with dementia and with conditions that may make their communication challenging and strategies you use to help you make your communication meaningful.


Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is usually associated with physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial features.


Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain. Did you know there are over 200 subtypes of dementia, but the five most common are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontal temporal dementia and mixed dementia.

Raising awareness, collaborating with professional colleagues and feeling very positive about the many well-being benefits of therapeutic touch.