Whether we are a newborn infant, a petulant teenager, an overwhelmed new mother or an aging senior citizen, the power of touch can produce miraculous results. With a simple touch, we can express love, support, gratitude, sympathy, and trust. A simple gesture of holding hands, patting shoulders and giving hugs can make all the difference in the world. Sight can be shut off by closing our eyes, we can plug our ears to block out sound, but it’s hard to completely lose the ability to feel. In fact, it is thought that the first sense we develop in the womb is touch. We are all gifted with the super power to touch.
In a recent study by AARP, the absence of human contact is a huge problem to many senior citizens. Widowhood is often when senior’s notice the absence of touch. The pillow next to them is cold for the first time in decades. There is no one to hold their hand at the movies or to hug them good morning before coffee. Children and grandchild often live far away so grandma hugs are frequent only on holidays. With age-related debility, sometimes the only ‘touch’ some seniors feel is during a doctor’s appointment. This lack of contact can lead to isolation and depression. As we grow older, our sense of touch degrades but its importance never does. Aging people are sometimes less sensitive to touch, yet they are the ones who need to be touched the most.
The sense of touch is created by a myriad of sensors embedded in the nerve endings of our skin which can sense texture, vibration and pressure. Touch lowers our levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases the amount of oxytocin (the love hormone) in our system. In senior living communities, caregivers are encouraged to touch residents as often as possible. Hand holding, shoulder rubs and hugs have proven benefits. In a study reported by AARP, for residents with cognitive challenges, simple massages and other touch interactions create a host of behavioral improvements, improved digestion, boosted serotonin levels and can help the resident sleep better. Touch has also been shown to benefit conditions ranging from arthritis to voice disorders. Older adults with dementia were more likely to eat nutritious food when gentle touch accompanied verbal encouragement.
Reach out and touch someone today. They’ll be glad you did!