We often underestimate the power of touch. Despite that it develops first and affects our perception of stimuli, building relationships, and communication, little research has been done. Virginia Satir, an American psychotherapist, has proven that we need four hugs a day to survive, eight to feel good, and twelve to develop. As we rush through life, we become more and more lonely and forget about the power of contact with other people. We also tend to forget certain people around us – specifically our seniors, especially during the pandemic, when contact with them was minimal. What can you do for your loved ones? How can you help the elderly?
The social meaning of touch
Even though we all want to build relationships with other people, each of us does it differently – we talk about emotions and show them, but we also confirm those emotions by touch. Sometimes, simply putting your hand on someone’s shoulder means more than many words. We express deep feelings with a hug, holding someone’s hand, and by closeness. Simple gestures such as shaking hands in greeting, saying goodbye, or congratulating someone expresses our attitude towards the other person. Your touch can signal safety, give comfort, and build trust. This is how a child develops its first relationship with its parents and how we create a relationship with our partner. However, when we get older, we are often left alone – loved ones leave, family and friends live far away, or we are isolated because of physical or health limitations that prevent us from getting around. We begin to miss out on the touch and presence of other people.
The health importance of touch at any age
Touch benefits our body in many ways – it relieves tension and promotes the secretion of serotonin (the happiness hormone) and oxytocin (which allows us to build bonds). Unfortunately, with age, the sensory functions deteriorate as we begin to lose the nerve endings in our skin responsible for transmitting stimuli. Starting at the age of twenty, the number of touch receptors decreases by 1% annually, which is why we feel pain, temperature change, and touch less and less. This does not mean that we no longer need it. Our skin’s structure also changes with age – it becomes thinner and less elastic. Our blood circulation is poor in old age, which can also interfere with our perception of stimuli. However, despite all the discomfort of ageing, we need even more touch, and we usually get less and less of it. We forget about seniors, and they experience valuable touch only at the doctor or masseur, and it is an activity related to duty, not a relationship.
Scientific research shows that touch benefits our body. It lowers blood pressure, improves immunity, reduces stress and anxiety, makes it easier to fall asleep, decreases pain, relieves symptoms of depression, improves mood, and may even have anti-inflammatory properties. Lack of touch leads to serious diseases, many of which we may still be unaware.
How to help the elderly?
If you cannot help older people by visiting them regularly and showing them affection by touch, we have some solutions. You can provide seniors with professional massage therapy that will improve blood circulation and relax them. It is also a good idea to offer regular therapeutic contact with animals – it will enhance the well-being of the elderly. It is an excellent idea to buy a weighted blanket, which provides a pleasant wrap and sense of security with its weight. Such a blanket will relax the senior, make it easier for him to fall asleep, stimulate the proprioceptive system, and help fight insomnia.
Cuddle at any age!
No matter how old we are, we crave touch. Each of us wants to have our hand held, be cuddled, and simply be loved. We love to spend time on the couch with a loved one, cuddled up next to each other. We forget that the elderly also need physical contact, so the next time you see a parent, grandmother, or grandfather, hold his hand, hug him, put your arm around him, or merely touch him. This is the greatest gift we can give them.