Touch is important for everyone; it is an essential part of our well-being. For the elderly, the healing power of human touch cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, many seniors do not experience the simple act of touch on a daily basis.
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Touch is important for everyone; it is an essential part of our well-being. From the moment we are born, a gentle touch calms us and lets us know that someone cares.

For the elderly, the healing power of human touch cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, many seniors do not experience the simple act of touch on a daily basis. This can exacerbate feelings of social isolation and depression.

We all need to feel connected and cared for - residents living in long-term care settings are no exception. There are many ways we can harness the power of touch to improve the quality of life of the elderly.

The Elderly Need Regular Touch

A lack of human touch has psychological and emotional consequences. The elderly living in long-term care are among the most vulnerable, particularly those living with dementia. Most of the ‘touch' they receive is from caregivers carrying out personal care assistance. Even if done in a gentle and caring manner, it is still associated with procedures and tasks.

The touch elders seek is informal, emotional touch. Touch that conveys warmth, concern, security, encouragement, and comfort. The older they get, the greater their need for human touch. Regular, gentle touch given with warmth and attention can have a huge positive impact on the elderly.

10 Amazing Benefits of Human Touch

Regular, compassionate touch is said to:
  • Make people live longer and recover from illnesses faster
  • Help fight stress-induced illness
  • Satisfy the craving for human touch
  • Balance the nervous system
  • Provide positive non-verbal communication
  • Relieve pain
  • Increase empathy and understanding
  • Boost the immune system
  • Reduce the worry of mortality
  • Provide a strong display of love and support

How to Harness the Power of Touch

Hugs, embraces and holding hands are essential to the well-being and overall health of residents. One way to incorporate five minutes of caring touch is to offer to rub some lotion into dry hands and arms. Another is to take the opportunity while escorting them somewhere to gently stroke their hands.

A simple and genuine smile, eye contact and a gentle touch of the hand can turn someone's day around, imparting acceptance, hope and positive feelings. Even a ‘high-five' can leave baby-boomers feeling better. Opportunities to gently touch someone could also include:

  • Showing appreciation for something
  • Sharing good news
  • Greeting kisses
  • Prolonged handshakes
  • Placing your arms around a client to show empathy
  • Gently rubbing a sore back
  • Nodding and smiling at a new client for encouragement
  • Pampering: makeup and hair brushing
  • Sitting next to a client while reading something of interest (instead of across the table)

Things to Remember When Hugging Someone

A hug is a nice way to show affection and support. Physical contact is not only pleasant, but necessary to the emotional wellbeing of residents. There are a couple of unwritten rules accompanying hugs that most people know intuitively:

  • Always respect for the other person's space
  • Ask for permission
  • Hug sincerely and mindfully
  • Never assume it is alright to hug a client, even you you've done it before. Ask for permission each time.

Massage and the Elderly

Massages can reduce a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression and agitated behaviour. Massage should be gentle, non-invasive, an unhurried; it should be a pleasure to both parties. Remember the aim of massage is not affection, rather to touch and gently knead muscles to relieve tension, and improve blood flow and circulation.

Training by a skilled therapeutic massage therapist is ideal, but in the absence of one, explore other ways to get acquainted with the basics of massage. There are many youtube videos and online resources that can help you with the basics.

Assess your client's mood before attempting to engage physically with them. Try engaging in some conversation before looking in their eyes and asking: Would you like a hand massage? How about a shoulder/head massage?

Don't feel bad about refusals, some clients are more receptive than others.


Beauty Therapy
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Comments   Post a Comment

Felecia James 16th Aug 2022
Terrific article! I'm not in a professional setting. I am a full time caregiver for a family member who is blind. I am however, a professional massage therapist. I found this site looking for engaging activities, both mental and physical. Touch applies to both AND perhaps most important -the ❤️.
I've worked with elderly and clients with terminal diagnoses, who are also often missing "touch. Families sometimes withdraw as if protecting themselves. I had a cancer patient explain that her adult child must think she was contagious.
Hint: Do consider of skin movement and possible bruising, moreso when on blood thinners. This is when touch or j'ust light enough to apply lotion' is great. Another hint is the speed of massage. Slow and long strokes are more calming.
Thanks to GC I get to share games etc with several homebound seniors
I am blessed both by this site and those sharing your hearts!
Talita 22nd Aug 2022
Thank you so very much for your feedback Felecia. All the best! x
Pat 21st Oct 2018 Volunteer
I have a couple of afternoons dedicated for hand massage and manicure which I have found to be very successful in calming residents who are aggravated and tired. I will offer my two hands and give them the option of accepting me and they do. Some relaxation music and a hand rub keep them connected as well as keep them calm for a long time. I have the care managers join in this beautiful ritual ; some do the manicure..
Talita 29th Oct 2018
This is lovely Pat, how wonderful that you involve the care managers.
Susan 20th Oct 2018 Activity Director
I think touch may help stimulate an elder's brain as well
Antonella 2nd Jul 2018 Leisure and Health student
HI all, I find all the tips and feedback very rewarding and humble. I will try the hand massage and ask my colleague to do the nail polish. I look forward to reading more ideas that would be helpful at my community centre in July.
Talita 7th Jul 2018
Thank you so much for your feedback Antonella, it means so much to us. x
Pat 1st Jul 2018 Volunteer
Yes !!!
I totally believe in a precious touch.... I am able to experience the energies we exchange with that gentle touch and your voice that give them the safety and assurance they need. Well, I cannot imagine how a very aggressive resident who is expressing her feelings with anger can be calmed with your touch and your voice. I will sing a song and I can see an instant transformation..... I love this job...
Talita 1st Jul 2018
Thanks for your comment Pat. Yes, music is so powerful too!
Jean 30th Jun 2018 Activities Coordinator
Love this article
Talita 1st Jul 2018
Thank you Jean x
Catalina 25th Jun 2018 Activity Director
I have add to my schedulle this program and my residents love it
Talita 25th Jun 2018
so good to hear x
Catalina 22nd Jun 2018 Activity Director
More to learn. Very helpful your article on the power of touch. I am activity leader in a nursing home. I love to give a hugs and i do manicure time , I did some of your suggestions of your article . a smile of the elderly person it makes my day. Thank You!
Talita 25th Jun 2018
Thank you so much Catalina, your residents are lucky to have you!
Gloria 20th Jun 2018 Activies Coordinator
I found your article on the power of touch excellent. It’s possible to gain their trust by holding a hand, a smile means everything to a elderly person . Sometimes it is only touch remains as a form of communication. I have been putting your articles eg “growing old “ on the board in my workplace where I am activities coordinator-
Talita 25th Jun 2018
Thank you so much for your feedback Gloria and for taking the time to write to us, this is so wonderful to hear x
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