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 Why Acupuncture Works for SeniorsWhy Acupuncture Works for Seniors

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac.

For more than two years I worked at a pain clinic that happened to be attached to a long term care facility inhabited by elderly patients. Many of them were my patients, and although their treatments at the clinic were multidisciplinary (seeing many types of doctors and receiving different types of treatments depending on their issues), I found that acupuncture really worked wonders on the eldery patients from next door.

Older patients present some unique problems. Firstly, many of them are on a myriad of medications for a wide variety of conditions. I found that I really had to sit down with them and take the time in the initial consultation to document what medications they were on and then research and make sure that none of them could be reacting with each other and causing any of the problems they were coming to see me for. I was really amazed at how many medications my elderly patients were taking. Many of them werenít sure what they were for, and others had been on them for so long that they had forgotten why they had been given.

In Chinese medical theory, as a person ages, their vital energy, life force or "Jing" is seen to be in a gradual decline. This is healthy and a natural part of aging. However, we are only born with a finite amount, and the way we live our lives determines how it is used, whether it is wisely, or not. This is illustrated by a person who has lived hard, done a lot of partying, drinking, drugsÖ they usually have a worn out appearance and often look older than they actually are. They have been depleting their Jing, and it is aging them prematurely.

The other thing that I noticed about the seniors that I treated, was what a huge difference taking some time to sit and speak with them made. Making a connection and showing that I was really listening to them made a huge difference in their treatment and ultimately, their prognosis. This may seem obvious, that a little kindness goes a long way, but often in the medical profession, and in particular with seniors, doctors donít have (or take) the time to really listen. Of course, they are the experts on disease and illness, but who knows their body better than the patient? Allowing a patient to relay to you their experience of what is happening, what is out of balance or causing them pain is an important aspect of the treatment and subsequent healing process.

Another thing that I noticed is that my senior patients were rarely touched. Touch is such an important part of our lives. Important physiologically for things like the nervous system, and emotionally for a feeling of connectedness, affection and purpose. I found that sometimes they would hold my hand while telling me how they were doing just to feel a connection to another person. So, I always tried to incorporate some massage into the treatment which they always loved. Because stagnation occurs often in the elderly, massage (and acupuncture of course) are very moving and stimulating to the body helping to move stagnation and keep things flowing freely.

Why Acupuncture is So Good for Seniors

Because of all these factors acupuncture works very well for seniors. You donít have to worry about drug interactions (which are especially dangerous in the elderly), and it can be applied in as gentle a fashion as needed depending on the patients requirements.

Because many seniors exhibit long standing deficiencies, they are not as sensitive and by the time a symptom is felt, it is often very serious (children are the opposite), and acupuncture is a powerful tool and able to be used on sensitive or very deficient patients. Itís many modalities are also useful like dietary therapy (I found many seniors were not eating a balanced diet), emotional wellness (which I was attending to by speaking with them and allowing them to express what they were feeling), and the importance of exercise. Many did not get out or even do much moving around. As part of their treatment I always advised walking, even if it was around the halls, but going outside and getting some fresh air and being out in nature is always preferable. This is good for moving energy, getting the blood flowing and improving mood.

We had a physiotherapist in the clinic and we set up a program for her to go next door 3 times a week to do an exercise class with the seniors. It was so popular the class was always packed and the staff noticed a marked improvement in the overall health and mood of the residents.

Another common problem is depression. Often senior citizens are living in facilities like this because they are unwell, unable to take care of themselves, and have lost a spouse. These all take a toll on our psyche, so depression is common. Any of these on its own is a huge adjustment, but they often come together so it isnít hard to imagine that many people become depressed when these major life changes occur. Some withdraw and shut down, some become angry and frustrated at their situation, and some become sad and depressed. I found that the more connected to the world and other people, the better they did. If they had visitors, saw their friends and children, or went on outings, they were happier and more balanced and overall, healthier.

Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have many ways to deal with depression. Like everything in TCM there are many types of, and reasons for depression to take up residence, but a thorough intake and accurate diagnosis can help the patient on their way to recovery. I saw many patients improve dramatically, and seeing their healing was perhaps the most rewarding of my career. My senior patients were some of the most interesting (the stories! They have seen so much of history!), most kind hearted and appreciative patients I have treated.

We live in a society that does not value its older citizens the way most cultures do. In many cultures around the world the oldest members of the family, village, or town are the most revered as they have something the younger people do notÖ wisdom. And wisdom is something that can only be gained by living, so the oldest among us are the wise. In our culture in the West we do not have the same reverence for our elderly, and they are often put into homes, abandoned and forgotten when they have so much to offer and to teach us. I learn so much from all my patients, but I think I have learned the most from my senior patients who have lived longer, seen more and experienced life to an extent that I have not, at least not yet.


About the Author:

Emmaís love for Chinese Medicine began as a teenager when, like many people, western medicine failed to solve the underlying health issues she faced. Her doctors proposed only surgery or a lifetime of drugs. However, after a few months of acupuncture treatments and herbs those problems were resolved. From that moment forward she was committed to extending this gift of health to others.

Emma received a Diploma of Acupuncture from the Institute of Traditional Medicine in Toronto in 2006. Immediately after graduating, she started her first job treating postal workers and seeing up to 20 patients a day! Over the next several years she worked at 5 other multidisciplinary clinics throughout Toronto developing her skills and technique while working collaboratively with other health professionals, including medical doctors, to restore health to her patients holistically.

Today she specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and treating emotional issues and mood disorders through her own practice, Ukiah Clinic. She also shares her experience and enthusiasm on her new website, Chinese Medicine Living that explores ancient Chinese wisdom for better living in the modern world.



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