Case study: administering energy with Reiki

A Reiki master works to balance the life energy in an elderly female nursing-home resident to relieve symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
By John Russo Jr.,

VICUS.COM (19 July 2000) — Mrs. Martin is an elderly resident in a nursing center who suffers from dementia
and Alzheimer’s disease. She refuses to permit any of the staff to touch her, and she will not eat her breakfast. She is agitated, disruptive and generally a difficult person for the overworked staff to deal with.On this day, Michael W. Smith, who is a Reiki (pronounced “ray-key”) master and practices Reiki at the Women’s Place at Carroll County General Hospital in Westminster, Md., is making his weekly visit to the center and is asked by the staff to visit with Mrs. Martin.As he walks into her room he sees an agitated woman who claims that “the spirits are talking to her” and says that she will die in two hours.Smith visits the center each week and makes his services as a Reiki master available to the residents and staff. He spends from five to 20 minutes with each person, giving Reiki treatment. The response is often impressive. As described by Smith, “I’ve seen people with Alzheimer’s disease go from being upset or in discomfort from pain to being able to sleep or relax for the rest of the day.”

He introduces himself to Mrs. Martin, holds her hand and begins to administer Reiki. After a while, Mrs. Martin says that she can feel his hands becoming warm and asks what he is doing.

Smith finds that people with Alzheimer’s disease are able to sense that something is happening during the Reiki treatment. He explains to Mrs. Martin that through the Reiki treatment he is sending energy to her. This energy can be viewed as universal energy or energy from God. But most importantly, it is energy that is being sent to help her.

When the treatment ends, Smith says goodbye and leaves the room to work with other patients. Later in the day, a nurse comes up to him and thanks him for his help. Mrs. Martin has ordered chicken for lunch and is letting the staff cut her hair. Through Reiki, he was able to make a small but important enhancement in the quality of life for a distressed elderly lady.

Administering Reiki

“Conceptually,” according to Smith, “your body is like the receiver in a television. We each have the ability to tune in channels or energy sources, which can take the form of tension or calm, among other things. Through Reiki, it is possible to become more sensitive to these surrounding energies. Then, by touching somebody (or yourself) in certain areas, it is possible to administer a Reiki treatment and transfer this energy to the person being treated.” 

In general, periods of stabilization and a sense of peace and calm follow Reiki treatments. Relief from pain, anxiety, dyspnea (shortness of breath) and edema (collection of fluid under the skin) may also occur. When death is imminent, Reiki may help the person to enjoy the last days of life (Bullock, 1997). 

Reiki vs. therapeutic touch vs. massage

In therapeutic touch, it is necessary for the person giving the treatment to first become balanced and grounded. “They almost go into an altered state,” says Smith.

Then, the energy is sent from the therapist to the person being treated. “In Reiki, a simple attunement causes you to be ‘balanced’ at all times,” he continues, “and uses the chakras in your body to pick up energy.”

The theory behind Reiki is that your body emits and receives energy through a system called “chakras.” Chakras become “clogged” at times, and with Reiki the attunement permits the Reiki practitioner or master to clear the chakras and for the person receiving the treatment to take in the helpful energy.

Reiki differs from massage in that it is accomplished through light touch. Reiki can also be administered using no physical contact. No rubbing, pushing or massaging is used in Reiki, which can be an advantage in the elderly or when working with babies.

Areas of application

Mrs. Martin is an example of an elderly person with dementia who was helped through Reiki. Others who may benefit include people with headache, backache or arthritis. The application of Reiki as a complementary therapy for cancer has also created interest.

Most of the benefits reported with Reiki are based on the personal experiences of those who receive treatment and those who administer Reiki. However, one researcher who explored the usefulness of Reiki in conjunction with opioid therapy to treat pain caused by a variety of reasons, including cancer, reported a statistically significant reduction in pain following Reiki treatment (Olson and Hanson, 1997). 

John Russo Jr., Pharm.D., is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.


Bullock M. Reiki: a complementary therapy for life. Am J Hosp Palliat Care.  1997 Jan-Feb; 14(1):31-3.Olson K, Hanson J. Using Reiki to manage pain: a preliminary report. Cancer Prev Control. 1997 Jun; 1(2):108-13.