Category Archives: Compassionate Touch®

Expressive Touch in Caregiving is Beneficial for Everyone

Touch connects humans to each other, reduces stress, and communicates care and concern. Don’t we all need a little more of this these days?

Compassionate Touch® is an effective caregiving technique that combines expressive touch and compassionate presence.  The good- old-fashioned back rub is making its way back to eldercare, reinforcing that touch is beneficial for everyone.

But, let’s not stop at the back.  Add shoulders, arms and hands, legs and feet, and now we have a powerful caregiving protocol that is easy to learn and so effective.

Eldercare providers need tools that improve the quality of life for those they serve.  Additionally, providers need ways improve the quality of the work experience for their employees.  I would argue that there has never been a more critical time than now to seek new ways to retain employees.

Compassionate Touch® hits the mark on both counts.

Benefits of Touch

Compassionate Touch® offers numerous benefits to both care partners.   Findings are detailed here, as reported by participating nursing homes.

  • Decreased dementia related behavioral expression
  • Decrease in rejecting care
  • Reduction in anti-psychotic medication use
  • Increased cooperation with care

Additionally, touch is equally beneficial for the caregiver.  The physiological response of increasing  oxytocin and decreasing cortisol is a stress reducer.  In addition, caregivers also reported that they feel better equipped to respond to the emotional needs of their elders.

Empowered and equipped caregivers are better positioned to provide excellent care.

To illustrate, observe these words from an Ohio Skilled Nursing Activities Director:

“I have found the CT program a pleasant way to engage our residents in a touch program which is essential to all human life.  It thrills my heart to see the positive verbal and non-verbal responses from our residents.”

To conclude, there is no better time than the present to re-ignite the compassion, love and connection between elders and their caregivers. Both parties need it now, more than ever.

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.

COVID Recovery: Rebuilding Human Connections

We can restore human connection and relationships post-COVID by understanding the importance of re-awakening the senses through the simple act of touch.

For nine months, we’ve been under COVID-19’s siege.  People residing in care communities are still confined to their rooms, cared for by overwhelmed team members shielded in protective gear and with no outside visitors.

Most certainly, this is devastating blow to any sense of well-being. Now we’re looking ahead to what changes 2021 may have in store. We may finally see a glimmer of hope as we anticipate our collective recovery from COVID.

Before looking forward, let’s glance at the toll on those the precautions keep safe. We’ve all seen first-hand or heard reports of social isolation and loneliness.

As humans, we all have a deep-rooted need for connection with others. We connect through voice, facial expression, body language, touch. Cut off from this bond, anxiety, depression, futility, decreased function, falls, and worsening dementia may set in. Some frail elders stop eating and wither, losing their desire to live.

Of course, every person is unique. Some are naturally resilient and able to better roll with the changes and find meaning in reading, music, and computer or phone calls.

However,   others don’t have the reserves to carry them through, as we see in elders with advanced dementia or other conditions, placing them more at risk for decline.

Our hats are off to all of you working so hard to try to create a connection. Arranging window or porch visits with families, distanced communal activities, video chats, and more.

Our Way Forward

Although we haven’t turned the corner yet to see the end of COVID, now is the time for conversations about how to open the doors again and rebuild lost human connections.

Going straight from “lockdown” to the “old way” probably isn’t an option. Creativity and flexibility is needed well into 2021.

Perhaps the basics is a good starting point. The senses offer a way to reach through the fog of prolonged isolation.

Compassionate Touch is a universal language of the heart that will help fill the void for elders, families, and the care team alike. Even now, a caring touch on the shoulder or a few kind words will help.

Physical closeness without the barrier of a window will make for better hearing and verbal understanding. And one day ahead, when protective equipment isn’t standard garb, facial expressions will be seen again.

Some states created an “essential caregiver” designation for family members, allowing them to help with care and provide companionship for loved ones.  This is a good step forward.

Regardless of how things unfold in your community, let’s keep the conversation going about how we will navigate the next phase—collective recovery.

These two links have powerful videos about the impact of isolation on elders, families, and care staff.

This Article was written by Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT, founder of Compassionate Touch, a program offered by AGE-u-cate Training Institute.

Broken Heart Syndrome: Another Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As if life could not get worse. A recent study suggests more people are suffering with stress cardiomyopathy during this COVID-19 pandemic. Stress cardiomyopathy is also called broken heart syndrome.


Symptoms are similar to that of a heart attack. There is chest pain and shortness of breath. Low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat are other symptoms. There are not usually any blocked arteries.


The causes of stress cardiomyopathy are not fully known. However, stressful events can cause broken heart syndrome. As a result, a person can be affected in both their body and heart.

The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously stressful. Additional stress comes from restricting visitors in nursing homes.  Stress also comes from changes in residents’ routines and activities.  Residents are experiencing increased stress. Direct care workers are also dealing with their own stress, their residents’ stress, and family members’ stress.


At this time, only essential workers are allowed access into the nursing home. Why are family members not considered essential? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is starting to allow nonessential personnel into nursing homes, under specific guidelines. What about family members, friends, and other loved ones? Safety is important. Unfortunately, safety does not always ensure wellness or wellbeing.

Allowing family members to visit, either as essential or nonessential personnel,  can improve the wellbeing of direct care workers and staff. It gives them a break from needing to support the entirety of each resident’s emotional needs. It also helps the residents feel less isolated and stressed.

Balancing safety against wellbeing is a challenge. Until we support residents’ health, safety, and wellbeing, we will see the illbeing and other negative effects continue even after this COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is a Grant Manager at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;

Creating Feelings of Belonging Through Touch

Several months ago, pre-COVID 19, I took a dance class. There were only about 8 or 10 women in the class. For the most part, we did not know each other. Although I have no identifiable dancing skills, I had the feeling of belonging there.

When it comes to completing technical dance moves, I have two choices. I can either coordinate the movement of my hands or my feet, but not both. But there I was, moving and grooving with other women. I was trying something new having fun. Each class, the instructor would put us all in a line facing the mirror. We danced together, performing the same moves. Now, I have never been mistaken for a professional dancer at any time in my life. When that moment came, I felt like I was enjoying a moment like performing and of belonging.


The feeling of belonging can be easy or hard to get. In my dance class, I chose the time and activity. I was with other women around my age and ability. The instructor encouraged us. We all enjoyed the time together. For residents in a nursing home, how do we help them feel they belong? How do we know they feel they belong? It’s especially hard for residents with dementia, and more so if they did not select the nursing home. They likely have questions: where am I? Why was I moved from my home? Why am I here? Who can help me? Residents might not recognize family members or friends. They can have trouble communicating their needs. Also, understanding the answer they get may be difficult, especially if the answer they get does not help them.


According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, feelings of love and belonging comes from friends and family. It is having a feeling of intimacy and connection. It comes after meeting physiological needs and the need for safety and security. For those of us caring for loved ones, especially those with dementia, we can provide shelter, food and water. It can be hard to help our loved ones feel safe and secure when feelings of fear and uncertainty about their reality spring up. Even with the physical environment being set, the social environment also takes an important place.


Finding ways to connect with residents and loved ones is crucial, especially at this time. One way is through touch. The power of touch supersedes all other forms of communication. It expresses what cannot be said. Touch communicates peace, acceptance, care, and support. It can be as simple as holding a resident’s hand or a back rub. Repeated forms of touch provide reassurance and support. It is more uncomplicated than any dance move and provides more joy. As the recent blog by Julie Boggess states, it is more important now, more than ever.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;