Touch is a Touchy Subject in Eldercare

Human beings need the connection of touch for wellbeing. Expressive Touch is possible and necessary, even during a pandemic.

The pandemic has made us all wary of getting too close to others, and rightly so.  Shivers might run down your spine thinking about touching someone not related to you.

Touch, meaning holding a hand, offering a hug or a warming shoulder rub.  Can we?  Should we?  Touch, is a touchy subject these days, after all.

People express their fatigue with pandemic-style living.  How many times have you heard, “I’m so over it”?

Imagine how over it elders who live in elder care communities must feel?  Separated from family and friends for a year with a profound absence of expressive touch in their lives.

Elders Need Touch Too

Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and one of the last to leave us before we die.  Human’s need the connection of touch throughout their life-course, which includes old age.

Yet, studies reveal that older adults lack meaningful touch in their lives, under ordinary circumstances.  Layer in a pandemic, and the effects will be catastrophic.

People delivering care for elders in care communities must touch to provide for basic care needs.  It is impossible to assist with dressing, ambulation and bathing without touch.  This form of touch is task focused instrumental touch.   We are mistaken in thinking that this is the only form of touch needed or wanted by elders.

Consider from a place of empathy what life absent of expressive touch must feel like.  No hugs or soft embraces.  Nobody to sit with and hold hands or stroke your forehead before bed.

When we emotionally connect with the realities of what living life like this could be like, we can safely step out of a comfort zone and make a change in our actions of care.

Consider the difference a gentle shoulder or back rub could make in an elder’s day.  Or, soothing strokes on the forearm or on top of the legs before bed.

It is safe and possible to incorporate expressive touch with instrumental touch in the tasks of caregiving.  Try beginning a bathing event with a soothing back rub.

Click here to learn more about how to formalize expressive touch as a part of your community caregiving protocol.

Next up,  incorporating expressive touch in caregiving is good for the caregiver too!

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a the Director of Grants and Consulting Projects and a Certified Master Trainer with AGE-u-cate Training Institute. In addition, she is an instructor and of Gerontology and Leadership in Aging Services at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

Case Study: Compassionate Touch at Presbyterian Senior Living

Presbyterian Senior Living offers love, connection and comfort to their elders by creatively keeping Compassionate Touch moving forward during the pandemic.

AGE-u-cate honors the wonderful work at  Presbyterian Senior Living (PSL), based in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.

Alicia Fenstermacher, PSL Corporate Director of Purposeful Living and AGE-u-cate Certified Master Trainer shared how PSL keeps resident and employee well-being front and center during the pandemic with Compassionate Touch.

Since 2015, Compassionate Touch is integrated into the culture of care and service at PSL. They have over 230 certified Compassionate Touch Coaches, and  989 trained caregivers.

The pandemic imposed an environment of isolation and disconnection for their elders.  Loneliness and depression are serious risk factors for elders lacking human connection and touch. Without delay, Alicia accepted the challenge and created a solution to continue training staff on CT during the pandemic.

Leadership in Action

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you.  If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up.  Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”  Michael Jordan.

Alicia used the Master Trainer resources provided by AGE-u-cate.  She created a customized a 40-minute education module about the benefits, skill, and application of the Compassionate Touch techniques.

The staff at PSL find Compassionate Touch easy and flexible.  Additionally, feedback indicates that using CT reduces care partner stress and helps the staff to build trusting relationships with their residents.

Further, CT, along with other interventions, results in decreased incidents of resident behavioral stress reactions.

Presbyterian Senior Living mission is  to provide compassionate, vibrant and supportive communities and services to promote wholeness of body, mind and spirit. 

 “We are honored to be a part of the PSL mission in action,” Pam Brandon, Founder and President, AGE-u-cate Training Institute.

Read more about PSL in this case study.

Click here for more information about Compassionate Touch and other AGE-u-cate Programs.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a the Director of Grants and Consulting Projects and a Certified Master Trainer with AGE-u-cate Training Institute. In addition, she is an instructor and of Gerontology and Leadership in Aging Services at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

Reading2Connect: Innovative Programming for Persons with Dementia

Elders experience active engagement and initiation, a renewed interest in the world and desire to learn. Their past areas of expertise and passions are rekindled.

Innovative programming for persons living with Dementia is taking  a significant step forward.

Reading2Connect is an integrated reading program for persons with cognitive changes.  Adapted books help them to express their individuality, recall their pasts, share humor, and emotionally connect with peers, family, and caregivers. 

The ability to read is automatic and often remains to some degree functional even in the later stages of dementia.

Specially designed books break through the barriers to reading,    sparking older adults with dementia abilities to reflect, remember, learn, and express themselves.

Revive the minds, voices, and self-esteem of the older adults in your care

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid commissioned a study with residents in 40 nursing homes about the meaning of quality
of life. Independence, positive self-image and purposeful activities that produce or teach something ranked high on the list.

To that end, Reading2Connect is a program  that satisfies universal human needs, such as the longing for friendships and laughter.  In addition, R2C is a purposeful activity that aligns with the necessary elements for quality of life.

Furthermore, R2C can be offered as an independent activity which is a critical need for Aging Services Providers due to the pandemic. At no time has the need for quality, independent programming been greater.

Additionally, Reading2Connect is a helpful resource for Area Agencies on Aging to expand programming to homebound elders.

Access the Reading2Connect Whitepaper for more information on how to provide quality programming for persons living with cognitive changes.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a the Director of Grants and Consulting Projects and a Certified Master Trainer with AGE-u-cate Training Institute. In addition, she is an instructor and of Gerontology and Leadership in Aging Services at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

CARES Act Grants to Help Social Isolation among Elders

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law.   The CARES Act grants totally $955 million will support older adults and people with disabilities in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizations that will have access to this funding includes a network of community-based organization such as Area Agencies on Aging, Centers for Independent Living,  senior centers, faith-based organizations and other community-based non-profit organizations that provide resources and services to help older adults and people living with disabilities stay healthy and live independently.   $100 million is earmarked for the National Family Caregiver Support Program to help expand services that aid families and information for caregivers who are providing support for their loved ones at home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought to light the weaknesses of our current social support systems for older adults and their care partners living at home.  The much-needed CARES Act funding will help aging service providers and other community-based organizations  to reach vulnerable populations across the United States with resources to help meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of this group, among other at-risk population groups.

Social isolation and loneliness of older adults and their care partners did not start with the pandemic, but quarantine and social distancing  guidelines have intensified what was already a serious and growing problem with our fast-aging population.   While some initial studies pointed to a near 30% increase in loneliness during the first month of COVID-19,  it is  yet to be determined  the fall-out of long-term isolation for older adults now that we are moving into our 10th month of the pandemic.

Across the spectrum of care of our aging population, especially those living alone, COVID recovery must address the long-term effects of prolonged isolation and loneliness.  Some of these include mental health concerns, substance abuse, domestic violence,  anxiety, poor sleep, changed eating habits, and depression.

Thanks to technology,  many organizations quickly became adept at reaching these populations through Zoom and other conferencing platforms, helping to support at-home caregivers and provide meaningful activities to help alleviate the social isolation.  Innovation and creativity have led many of these groups to realize that post-Pandemic, these social platforms will be a permanent and important part of their community outreach education, resource and support services.   CARES Act funding will help support these initiatives and address the most pressing challenges of reaching elders and families who simply cannot leave their homes, even when there is no pandemic.  Rural elders and their care partners are especially an at-risk population.

With the hope of a vaccine bringing the pandemic to a slow-closure, social isolation and loneliness in older adults must be addressed as the public health challenge that it is.  The targeted funding from the CARES Act is the critical financial injection at the state and local level and hopefully will be the catalyst for additional long-term funding to support the needs of older adults and their families with expanded education, resources and support services.

For information on AGE-u-cate programs for older adults and their care partners that may be offered by Area Agencies on Aging and other community-based organizations click here.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute.      AGE-u-cate develops and delivers training and education for professional and family caregivers across the aging services spectrum.  Pam is a passionate advocate for elders and their caregivers.  

 

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