Touch is a vital part of my life, and I believe it is a vital component of eldercare. I began studying the effects of touch before the birth of my first child, discovering that infants will fail to thrive, even when all other needs are met, unless they are regularly held. I believe this same principle applies to people of all ages. Although it is possible to live with little physical contact, we cannot thrive without it.
A favorite hospice patient of mine lamented the lack of touch in his elder years. I realized that one of the first things the elderly lose is consistent human touch. Isolation, decreased mobility and the loss of cherished friends and family members can make prolonged skin to skin contact a rare event. Certain illnesses, like dementia, dramatically decrease the ability to spontaneously reach out and connect with other people. This is tragic, as research proves that physical touch has a dramatic effect on both our psychological and physical well-being.
I believe there is great cause for hope. As caregivers, we have a marvelous capacity to share the warmth of our hands and touch of our skin while providing eldercare. Did you know the magic of our touch can do all this?
- Decrease anxiety
- Improve immune system functioning
- Increase relaxation
- Relieve pain
- Reduce behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's disease
And it's so easy to do. I don't have time to give lengthy massages, and I doubt other caregivers do, either. However, just five minutes, twice a day, of regular skin contact can make a world of difference in your loved one's life.
Some studies have shown that incorporating consistent, "legitimate" touch into care programs for Alzheimer's patients can decrease the need for sexual activity.
I use these simple techniques to increase physical contact
- Gentle Massage - focus on hands, feet, back and head
- Hugs - quick ones are good. Lingering ones are better.
- Hair Brushing - gently, with a soft brush
Rather than rushing through my tasks with a minimum of touch, I remind myself to slow down and be physically present with the people I care for. After all, the simple act of sitting next to someone I'm caring for and holding their hand for a few minutes is good for both of us.