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.

WHERE DO I BELONG?

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.

WHAT MATTERS MOST- THE FEELING OF BELONGING

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.

HELPING RESIDENTS BELONG THROUGH TOUCH

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; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

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