Humans are social beings. We need to communicate, talk, listen, touch, and be touched by others. These are basic human needs that are essential for us all, regardless of age, sex, and state of mind.
Caring for people means touching them, not only emotionally, but physically as well. This is a basic premise that we all know instinctively. When a baby cries, our first instinct is often to hold it to help it calm down.
Of course, seniors are not babies, but they do have a fundamental need for basic human touch. Communication between people tends to be subliminal with words only helping to emphasize details. Non-verbal communication takes the lion’s share in communication. Seniors who live alone are able to get by, but it is important that they share experiences with others, including not ignoring their sense of touch.
The Science Behind Touching
The language of touch is universal. Holding hands with someone can speak volumes.
A hug conveys deep affection and compassion, while at the same time helping the person being hugged to release some of their stress through a sense of shared emotion.
A pat on the back or shoulder can imply understanding, satisfaction with a job well done, or approval.
The truth is that we use touch in our communication on a daily basis without being conscious about it. Researchers agree that touch has, and will always, play a fundamental part in communication, and even in our overall health and sense of wellbeing. Touch predates verbal communication and is an integral part of our DNA. We understand the message of touch on a molecular level.
Touch triggers the hypothalamus to produce oxytocin. This hormone is then released into the bloodstream and stored in the brain. Oxytocin is essential for the performance of some basic physiological functions, such as reducing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, decreasing pain sensitivity, and boosting mood.
Touch is also essential in our cortisol balance. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when we are stressed or feel threatened. Research has shown that five minutes of touch is enough to reduce cortisol levels in the bloodstream and it simultaneously stimulates the release of Serotonin into the bloodstream. This feel-good hormone is instrumental in helping appease our mood and making us feel better.
The Benefits of Touching
The benefits of touch start from birth and remain essential throughout our lives. However, many seniors miss out on this therapeutic touch.
As they become more isolated, they start becoming withdrawn and socially isolated. The loss of confidence that accompanies this process tends to limit the occasions for touch amongst these seniors, creating a chronic need for some of that healing human touch.
This is something that professional caregivers know and is why they prioritize a close and “touchy, feely” approach towards their wards. This tends to deliver the much-needed dose of daily touch these seniors need, while at the same time improving and facilitating the task the caregivers need to accomplish thanks to the grateful participation of their senior care patients.
The benefits of touch are such that some senior care facilitiesprioritize the use of massage as part of their therapeutic repertoire when looking to improve the life experience of their elder residents.
How Dementia Affects Touch
Patients with dementia are a particular group that suffers from lack of touch. People often fear the reactions of these somewhat unpredictable patients, so they may tend to avoid touching them, creating a void for this particular population of seniors.
Dementia patients are in as much need of being touched as anybody else. The only difference is that you need to be more careful and observant when doing so. However, you will find that you are delivering much-needed help with every hug and touch. Research has found that a five-minute hand massage is enough to significantly lower levels of agitation amongst these patients. The benefits can last for as long as an hour afterward.
Touch also helps communicate something on a deeper level for dementia patients. It is universal and very inclusive. It can convey a feeling of acceptance and security that mere words can’t replicate.
Take it From the Boss
With all of that being said, you can see why touch is essential for our physical and emotional health. Seniors with serious medical disabilities are particularly in need of this touch therapy. The calming effect of touch amongst this population is very effective in reducing stress and beneficial in the treatment of their condition.
For more helpful tips on assisting seniors with disabilities, contact one of our senior care managers in California and we will be happy to assist.