April 19, 2008
Effects of Touch Spread From Hand to Body, Spirit
By HANNS PIEPER
The importance of touch has been recognized for a long time. Decades ago, studies demonstrated how essential touch was for babies to thrive and develop. The need for touch does not decrease with age.
Touch is a way to communicate to others that we care about them and that we are connected with them. Casual touch involves something as simple as a hand shake, touching someone on the hand or arm or just a pat on the back.
Touch stimulates physiological processes. Just gently holding a person's wrist can lower blood pressure. Other effects are the release of natural painkillers and neurotransmitters necessary for mental function.
American adults are typically touch-deprived; we take a rather dim view of casually touching others. Unlike other societies, we give even casual touching among adults sexual connotations. Our culture may have a dim view of touching, but that doesn't mean that we don't need it.
Seniors are more touch- deprived than younger adults because they are less likely to be in situations where touch naturally occurs. They are more likely to have lost their spouses and are more likely to live separated from friends and family. This is especially true in nursing homes.
To fill this void, nursing homes can offer activities and programs that facilitate touch. Bringing children into the setting will have that effect. Dancing activities can provide an opportunity for touch.
Geriatric massage can be helpful. For instance, hand massage may relieve symptoms of poor circulation or arthritis, as well as reduce stiffness. Geriatric massage should only be used with the approval of a resident's physician because of some potential side effects.
A regular program of pet therapy can provide tremendous opportunities for touch. Some studies have shown that people with pets live longer. Residents who would never think of touching another resident may have no reservations about touching or holding a puppy or kitten.
The healing touch has been a part of medicine for thousands of years, but medicine has become so scientific that the art of medicine has become buried under technology.
We need to be careful about casually touching others in our society until we are sure that it will be received positively. In general, people prefer casual touch on the hands or upper arms or a pat on shoulder. Hugs in our culture are best reserved for family or close friends.
However, we can definitely send a clear message that we are receptive to a senior's touch.