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.
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.
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:
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:
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.