Your Guide to Using Chinese Medicine for Senior Health 

By Sally Perkins

It’s no secret that Chinese medicine can be extremely beneficial to your health, so it comes as no surprise that studies show that Chinese medicine can actually improve the quality of life in seniors. As you begin to age, you may experience more frequent pain, stress, or even arthritis. So, it goes without saying that a great way of treating the stress, aches, and pains that come with age is through Chinese medicine.

Soothing Your Aches and Pains

Gaining life experience, wisdom, and self-discovery are all great aspects of growing older, but sometimes your body can catch up to you - and oftentimes not in pleasant ways. Whether it be arthritis, back pain, stress, or even depression, there’s a way to go about easing your pain (or possibly even erasing it) through Chinese medicine. Using Chinese medicine can be extremely beneficial to those who are aging, as it offers a healthier alternative and approach to treating ailments that might otherwise be treated with prescription or over the counter drugs - leaving you with a feeling of balanced energy and relief of pain, not to mention a better quality of life.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

One of the most common struggles of older age happens to be arthritis. In fact, it’s estimated that about 54 million adults have been diagnosed with arthritis, and managing pain that comes with it can prove to be quite difficult. However, Chinese medicine can be a great way to manage the pain that accompanies arthritis in seniors and using techniques such as acupressure or acupuncture are popular ways of treating such pain. In Chinese medicine, the energy of qi runs through the body in invisible meridians. When acupuncture takes place, it is believed that the qi flow will be corrected - thus relieving any pain.

If you don’t like the idea of needles and acupuncture, acupressure might sound more appealing to you. Following the same idea as acupuncture, acupressure is more like a targeted massage - though, in place of needles, only fingers are used. While acupressure can be great for arthritis and other chronic pain, it can also do wonders for melting away stress and sleep issues such as insomnia, all of which as common issues as you age. Whether you choose acupressure or acupuncture, each are great ways to manage pain through traditional Chinese medicine.

Staying Fit and Healthy Through Tai Chi

Staying fit as you age is extremely important, and a perfect way to do so is through the ancient martial art of Tai Chi. Practising Tai Chi as a senior is not only a great way to stay fit, but also has many health benefits as well, such as reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and improving balance. Tai Chi is an amazing way for seniors to practice meditation too, and since the martial art of Tai Chi isn’t strenuous at all, it can be found relaxing and enjoyable for people of any age.

Tim Foster

In addition to it being a non-strenuous way to exercise, Tai Chi comes along with many other health benefits. Tai Chi is a very low impact martial art, meaning it puts very little to no stress at all on the body - perfect for older adults. Because of that, Tai Chi is perfect for those who experience joint pain. Furthermore, practising the ancient martial art is a great way for anyone to improve their balance and coordination - meaning that as a senior, you could actually reduce your risk of falling just by incorporating Tai Chi into your life.

Aging is a part of life, and with it oftentimes comes unpleasant feelings of pain, stress, and more. However, with all of the benefits that Chinese medicine can bring, there is really no better way to battle the downfalls of aches and pains that come with aging.

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Featured image by

Swaraj Tiwari


Why 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 weren't 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, wheather it is wisely, or not. This is illustrated by a person who has lived hard, done a lot of partying, drinking, drugs... 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 don't 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 don't 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. It's 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 isn't 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 not... 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... ;)