Touch. Imagine not being touched. Imagine for a whole day no one touches you in any way. Imagine no one shakes your hand, pats your arm, gives you a hug, or clasps your shoulder. Now imagine that for a whole week, a month, a year.
People of advanced age can experience this lack of touch – the children are grown and may live far away and their partner may have died. People living with dementia are especially prone to physical contact deprivation leading to a feeling of isolation and depression and ofttimes agitation with them selves due to frustration and apathy.Whether it’s because stressed, hurried caregivers only have time for instrumental touching – touch that is necessary to perform a task – or because loved ones are unsure – and even fearful – about touching this person who has now become so foreign to them, many people living with dementia are seldom touched in any expressive way. This lack of contact can lead to their increased focus on pain, their feelings of isolation, loneliness, helplessness and boredom.
Touch has been shown to decrease the effects of sensory deprivation, increase reality orientation, and alleviate pain (Colton H., The Gift of Touch 1983). Touch is vital to human survival from the in utero state to old age. Studies have shown that meaningful touch can increase the quality of life for elders with benefits that include lessened physical pain, increased social interaction, reduced agitated behaviors, decreased anxiety and increased nutrition intake.
Focused meaningful touch, like that taught in our Compassionate Touch® program, can be as simple as holding someone’s hand while speaking with them or giving a gentle back rub but it can be the bridge that builds a greater sense of well-being and trust between the elder and their caregiver. It can also be the bridge back for families.