Physical touch is very beneficial to elders who don’t necessarily get hugged or touched often, because they are alone a great deal of the time. Living alone can be peaceful, but it can also be lonely. From simple interactions like hugs and holding hands to longer periods of physical touch, like snuggling during a movie, there are many aspects of life that happen less often when people get older for a variety of reasons. One of the more powerful human senses, touch has been a part of healing practices for thousands of years in nearly every culture. The gift of touch is given freely to children and spouses, but elders are not included as often. Perhaps a house once filled with children is empty because they have grown and moved away, or a partner has been lost. Whatever the case, there are a variety ways to reintroduce physical touch for your older family members and reclaim the benefits!
- Get a pet. Having a furry companion can decrease loneliness. Elders often have much more time to themselves than younger adults, especially if they are retired or disabled in some way. Pets are the ideal companion for preventing a loneliness overload during long periods of time alone. They can provide social support and unconditional affection as well as much-needed stress relief. Studies have shown that in many cases, pets have a greater effect on improving blood pressure than prescription drugs!
- Be generous with hugs and hand holding. A quick, gentle hand squeeze, a momentary elbow grasp, or an arm around the shoulder can communicate affection and support more profoundly than words, especially for elders. Don’t underestimate the power of physical warmth. You don’t have to go to extremes – no need to be clingy or stingy, but a few affectionate gestures can go a long way.
- Bring other visitors. Don’t be afraid to bring your pets to visit your elders (if policy allows). If your family has any babies, encourage your elders to hold them. If you’re bringing children to visit aging family or friends, encourage them to give hugs freely. These simple interactions can be fulfilling for aging family members or friends, and bring back heartwarming nostalgic memories. Having a variety of visitors to interact with can be more mentally and emotionally stimulating for elders and decrease loneliness and stress.
- Be aware of any health issues. Some forms of touch may be painful for the elder, but that does not mean that they should be left completely alone. Pay attention to signs of hidden pain when you are making physical contact and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta