Touch is perhaps the most powerful sense of all. From the moment we are born, before our eyes are open, a gentle touch calms us and lets us know someone cares. In the beginning stages of life, a nurturing touch helps create a bond that shapes us for the rest of our lives.
Even though research cannot prove exactly how touch positively affects us, it has shown that those who are physically touched on a regular basis experience higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. According to the National Institutes of Health, oxytocin lowers stress hormone levels and, by doing so, plays a part in lowering blood pressure, maintaining good moods and increasing pain tolerances. No one can deny the warm feeling we experience when we are touched. Hugs, holding hands and other physical gestures of affection have the potential to ease our minds, make us feel less isolated, and reduce stress and anxiety.
The need for constant touches may fade as we grow older but the feelings certain touches invoke do not. As we grow older, touch is a communication that transcends age and time. No matter how old we are, we all love to have our hand held, our backs rubbed, or the feel of a warm embrace.
Seniors who live alone often do not experience the simple act of touch on a daily basis. The reasons vary: spouses and close friends have passed away, families live in other states, or physical limitations may affect activity and contact with others. Remember this when spending time with the senior in your life. A simple, encouraging arm around a shoulder or a momentary grasp of a hand conveys a message of affection. Feelings of affection can make a big difference in the lives of seniors.
The sense of touch is so powerful that some experts recommend elderly clients receive regular, professional massages. Massages, in general, are not meant to convey affection, but use the power of touch in another way. Gentle kneading of muscles helps release tension, can improve blood flow through the body and ease the pain of arthritis. While no affection is involved during a professional massage, oxytocin released in the body during the process produces the same comforting effects. In place of a full-body massage, foot and hand rubs can be just as emotionally and physically beneficial.
The message of touch is simple. As humans, we are programmed to form emotional bonds that strengthen our relationships. Verbal communication facilitates those bonds. Physical communication confirms those bonds. Touching someone you love often conveys a message in a way words cannot. The next time you spend time with your elderly loved one, reach out and touch them. Hold their hand. Offer a warm embrace. Chances are you may see the loneliness and worry in their face replaced by a smile…and you may notice the same happens for you.