'Quiet Please," reads a sign at the entrance to a room at the Affinity Skilled Living and Rehabilitation Center in Oakdale.
Inside, the room is dimly lit. Soothing music wafts through the air. In each of two open booths, a resident seated in a wheelchair is getting a treatment from a therapist skilled in therapeutic massage for the elderly.
"When you're in pain, how do you feel?" one of the therapists asks her client, a woman in her 80s. The woman's eyes are closed. The therapist is applying gentle pressure to her shoulder.
Speaking in soft tones, the therapist says to her, "Are you more comfortable leaning over to the right? Tell me if something hurts. If something doesn't feel good tell me, OK?"
A session of Tender Touch For All is in progress.
The nonprofit, tax-deductible organization is the brainchild of Marc Silverstein, 46, of Port Washington, who wanted to offer the benefits of massage -- at affordable, discounted rates -- to seniors in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and veterans' centers.
Silverstein, an avid basketball player with a bad back, relies on regular massages to stay limber.
"I'm a believer," he said. "It enables me to stay active."
He was inspired to set up Tender Touch last year when his mother, Edith, was receiving care "in and out of senior care facilities."
"Many services were offered, but no one offered massages for seniors," Silverstein said. So he hired a private therapist to treat his mother, who has since died, at home.
Seeing the potential for a business, Silverstein, who has a background in marketing, said he "did a lot of research online regarding the physical, mental and emotional benefits, to verify there was substance to the idea."
He cites Niki Munk, a researcher at the University of Kentucky, who specializes in gerontology and concentrates her research on massage therapy in older adults.
"There is building anecdotal and research evidence that it [massage] helps sustain and improve physical function," she said.
"It reduces pain and, most importantly, it's very supportive of emotional well-being for older adults. It's been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. It's promoting human contact. As people age, they get less human contact. It [the massage] makes them feel good and important and just engaged with."
Therapists visit clients
Silverstein invested $15,000 to start the business, which operates on Long Island, in the five boroughs and Westchester County. About 20 licensed therapists trained in geriatric massage work with him as independent, hourly-paid contractors. They visit clients at least monthly at a dozen sites, six of them on Long Island, including the Northport VA Medical Center.
Some facilities absorb or subsidize the cost, which ranges from $5 to $12 per session, or share it with the residents' family. Tender Touch does a lot of hand and foot massages, Silverstein said, adding that "clients are fully clothed and do not have to leave their wheelchair."
Care is needed
Despite the benefits of massage, Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, notes that precautions must be taken.
"Because geriatric patients have multiple medical problems it is very important that the therapist becomes aware of these conditions," she said. "Some people have swelling of their legs or phlebitis or varicose veins which should not be massaged, or they have very brittle bones. So you want to be careful with massaging."
After her third massage at Affinity, Maxine Flynn, 91, a former secretary, said, "It does my body good. I feel very relaxed. I love it. I think everybody should have it. We have so many people uptight today, they would benefit from this. The ladies do it beautifully. Their touch is so perfect. I'd recommend it to anyone."
Irene Goldsmith, 80, a former physical education teacher, gets massages at Somerset Gardens Senior Living in Plainview. She said she uses a walker and has pain in her shoulder from "getting up and out of chairs and pushing back from a table. I think they should have it every day," she said. "It makes me feel great. I just wish it could continue forever."
Paul Wasser is executive director of Somerset. He has a degree in physical therapy and is a former licensed massage therapist. Besides the physical benefit, he notes the cost savings that come with Tender Touch's service.
"Marc and his company offer a reasonable cost in comparison to what it would cost, about $75 per session," Wasser said.
About 15 residents at Sun Harbor Manor in Roslyn Heights get the treatment. Michele Fishel, director of therapeutic recreation, said, "We offer a lot of outside services to enhance the residents' quality of life. We were missing the massage element. It definitely works to their advantage."
Mary Haugh, one of Silverstein's massage therapists, noted that, "This population can't come to us. We come to them. They couldn't endure a full treatment. We see them as little or as much as they need. Everybody responds to touch. We just slow it down."
How to help
Marc Silverstein is seeking corporate sponsors, grants and donations to help fund massages for seniors, veterans. He hopes to expand the service to include the disabled and thier caregivers.
More information on Tender Touch For All is available at: