The Power of Touch
By Dana Lusk
Who doesn’t love a relaxing massage, getting a gentle back rub, holding hands with someone we love, or getting a hug? Science has proven that the body’s chemical reaction to positive touch is a powerful calming and healing force. Appropriate physical contact feels good and makes us happy, so we tend to seek out social opportunities where we can enjoy contact with friends and family to fulfill this fundamental need.
In fact, our need for affirmative touch in our lives is so integral to our being that we don’t tend to think about this particular need. As long as we’re surrounded by family, friends, co-workers and others who are with us every day to provide positive physical contact that supports our overall well-being, it’s easy to take for granted the benefits of touch.
What happens, though, if we are no longer surrounded by people who can help us meet the vital need for physical contact? We can’t forget that our loved ones still need affirmative, loving touch as they age. When spouses have been together for 50 or 60 years or more and suddenly one spouse dies, the grief and depression over this loss can be compounded by losing the sensation of caring touch and, thereby, losing the chemical response that helps maintain our emotional health. If grown children and grandchildren aren’t able to visit frequently, the availability for positive touch is limited, and it’s not something a phone call can accomplish. As loved ones age, their interaction with peers and friends may also become more limited as friends move away, pass away, or become isolated themselves.
We know isolation is not healthy, but when we think about ensuring social opportunities for our loved ones, we want to encourage opportunities not only for social conversation and recreational activities, but we also want to provide opportunities for appropriate physical contact that elicits good feelings. Mental stimulation helps keep our mental functions strong, and physical stimulation can help keep our emotional balance healthy.
Some ways to make positive touch available are listed below. Even when you can’t be with your loved one all the time, think about other ways to encourage a sense of well-being that includes touch.
- If your loved one likes animals and is able to care for a pet, consider getting your loved one a dog or a cat. Petting an animal can elicit the same positive chemical responses as contact with other people.
- Would your loved one consider being a substitute grandparent on occasion? You may find that your loved one lives near neighbors with young children whose parents would appreciate the involvement of an older adult in their child’s life. And your loved one would benefit from the loving companionship—and hugs and kisses—showered upon them from a young child.
- A spa day might be just what the doctor ordered for relaxation and the sensation of pleasurable and healthy touch. You might arrange for your loved one to have a manicure, pedicure, facial, massage or other type of spa treatment in your absence. Or if you find that you are hurried and stressed when visiting your loved one, perhaps you can arrange to visit the spa together.
- If physical or cognitive challenges prevent your loved one from enjoying some of the suggested activities above, consider hiring a caregiver to serve as a companion for your loved. A private duty caregiver can offer your loved one assistance with daily activities and light housekeeping and can also become a close companion providing friendly touches such as holding your loved one’s hand, rubbing your loved one’s shoulders, or giving your loved one hugs.
- If your loved one has considered a different living situation, community living such as The Springs at Simpsonville offers the type of opportunities for contact that are listed above. Your loved one would receive nourishing physical contact from new friends and caring staff in a community setting.
We all thrive with affirmative, healing touch that enriches our emotional and spiritual well-being. Whatever solution works best for you and your loved one, remember that you can’t underestimate the sensation of touch. Hug your loved ones today!