Plenty of advice columns out there speak about the importance of keeping in touch with seniors, especially through newer methods like social media or email.
While “better contact” is generally appreciated for residents of Los Angeles and elsewhere who enjoy chatting with distant friends and family, this palliative care approach may still leave some seniors feeling disconnected and even a little anxious.
Instead of talking to people via email, text, or phone, many would rather have the opportunity to talk to someone in person, especially if that interaction came with a hug or some form of physical contact.
“The power of touch” is something that the staff at Accredited Home Care is familiar with. It’s a principle that many people have discussed extensively, but are still a lot of unknowns about why it works. Essentially, our bodies want and need regular physical contact: not necessarily anything intimate from a loved one, but simply a touch now and then from anyone from a barber to a classmate to a team member.
Many seniors, however, often don’t have as many contacts with the world as they used to, so they lack the opportunity to touch or be touched by many people.
They also may no longer have family members at home or nearby or aren’t as socially active as they used to be.
Plus, research shows that the number of touch receptors in the human body decrease as we age, making the existing ones even more vital for seniors.
In some cases, any touching can be appreciated, from getting their head massaged when they get a haircut or shaking a friend’s hand at church. Even a caregiver or home health care representative can offer a pat on the arm or a friendly hug.
Some research has shown that not only is some touch appreciated but downright necessary.
Too little touching can lead to a condition called ‘skin crazy.’ It’s a form of isolation that we’re seeing more and more of at all ages as more people become addicted to their electronic devices. While phones and computers are good in small amounts, and sometimes easy to hold quick conversations, many people find that they become a huge part of their world, and tend to spend more time on their screens than in real life.
Even people who consider themselves social online and play games or chat extensively with others still miss out on touching. But there is a price to be paid in terms of human contact.
One study looked at prisoners, many who are kept isolated through much of their day. They had a higher rate of mental problems than prisoners who were permitted to interact with other prisoners.
Seniors may have similar feelings: they may start to feel more and more alone, especially if they have few people around and difficulties going into the world. These feelings of isolation may also easily turn into depression, which can cause everything from a weakened immune system to inflammation to memory problems.
A survival tool?
Other research into the value of touching has concluded that it may go beyond feeling good. Touch, according to Neuronation, may be something primal, and a way that our skin – the biggest organ in our body – has been able to detect threats and non-threats for generations.
There’s a reason people like to see and touch something new, for that tactile experience. Touch tells us when things are good and when there’s a problem, everything from goose bumps when we’re cold to pain from touching a hot surface.
Acceptable touching or being touched can lead to less stress. This is part of the appeal of many animals that enjoy being petted, such as dogs or cats. Touching also provides security, which is why babies often become less fussy when someone holds them.
What can be done
Even though saying “go forth and touch everyone you meet” may make some people feel a little uncomfortable, there are still plenty of ways that seniors can make sure they’re not ‘skin crazy.’
They can look for ways to get even small interactions, such as joining a social club, getting a pet or going to the gym.
If they’re house-bound they may be able to invite friends and family over now and then.
Bringing touch into your life can also be as simple as getting a massage from time to time. This professional service has the added bonus of reducing pain and relaxing sore muscles. Massage has other mental and physical benefits as well – it can help remove toxins, reduce inflammation and increase endorphins.
Having a more relaxed state for a few days can also be good for mental health – all this can be achieved by the power of touch.
The team at Accredited Home Care also encourages its staff to reach and touch all of our clients when appropriate and welcomed – this can include hugs, arm pats or other opportunities just to reach out and provide healthy touching.