In a darkened room, with music quietly playing and the hint of flowers in the air, 81-year-old Ronna Graskowiak can finally relax.

“This takes my cares away,” Ronna says.

Ronna is a caregiver to her 90-year-old husband, who is losing his memory.

She’s in good hands with certified geriatric massage therapist Nicole Joy at Think Whole Person Healthcare in Omaha. Joy’s touch relieves arthritic joints, relaxes tight muscles and brings some patients to tears.

“Many elderly people haven’t been touched in a long time,” Joy said. “Massage releases the cuddle chemical, endorphins that lower blood pressure and relieve loneliness. They talk about their past, their problems and sometimes cry.”

Joy doesn’t mind the tears. She’s always wanted to do something meaningful and impactful in her life. Massage therapy has allowed her to use her natural empathy and bring comfort through her hands.

Patients like Ronna are often referred to Joy by their friends. James Wunsch’s Think physician recommended massage for his chronic aches and pains.

“Nothing works like it should,” said Wunsch, 72. “I get a massage once a week to help keep my body functioning. My quality of life is better because of it.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) projects that by 2050, America’s 65-and-over population will have nearly doubled, from 48 million to 88 million.

Those numbers are causing the health care industry to look at different methods to provide quality care like massage. The evidence is already there. A Veterans Affairs (VA) study revealed Swedish massage reduced pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Massage has also been found to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Journal of Aging Life Care suggests the impact of social isolation on health appears to be of similar magnitude to other risks to health, such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity. It’s a significant public health issue.

So, a trip to the doctor that includes an opportunity to dress up and socialize and relax with a massage may bring healing of a different kind to the elderly. Nicole Joy witnesses it every day.

Adds Ronna, “I say things to her I can’t say to anyone else. Once a month, after my massage I know I can face whatever is coming.”