Ten Reasons Why Touch Matters in Nursing Homes

Comforting a nursing home resident with a compassionate touch.
  1. Touch deprivation in old age is real. Studies have shown that frail older adults are less likely to receive meaningful touch, but it’s a time when “tactile hunger is more powerful than ever,” As a result, people experience isolation, anxiety, pain, loneliness, boredom, and helplessness.
  2. Touch in caregiving is not all the same. Some touch is necessary during personal care and medical procedures while expressive touch shows care, concern, reassurance, affection, and love.
  3. Why touch matters to the person living in a nursing home. Research shows that touch improves the quality of life by:
  • Decreasing anxiety
  • Improving sleep
  • Easing physical discomfort
  • Increasing nutritional intake
  • Improving skin condition
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Reducing agitated behaviors
  • Enhancing relationship with caregivers
  1. Why touch matters to a nursing home resident’s family. They need assurance that their loved one is safe, cared for, and cared about. Family members need to relate to a loved that may not be able to communicate well because of their condition. They can use touch techniques to connect with their loved one.
  2. Why touch matters to the staff of a care facility. Care staff can learn skilled touch techniques that decrease caregiving challenges. For example, a nursing home resident became more cooperative during personal care following a five-minute skilled touch hand technique. Also, touch helps care staff to enjoy more of a relationship with those they care for.
  3. Why touch matters to the nursing home as an organization. It needs to provide excellent service. It must attract new residents and have a marketing edge in a competitive industry. It needs to retain skilled staff. As one nursing home administrator puts it: “Providing skilled touch for our residents puts us a cut above other facilities—going above and beyond what’s required.”
  4. Why touch matters to you. With a touch sensitivity to care for others grows and your ability to be a compassionate presence deepens. We share benefits of touch uplifting you while making a difference for someone else.
  5. Why touch matters to society. Healthcare in today’s high-tech world has become depersonalized. Medical care focuses on technical information.  Consequently, a person feels lost in the shuffle. We can bring together the world of medical technology with the human side of care only by reaching out and offering the gift of a compassionate touch.

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.

Elevating the Vocation of Aging Services Certified Nursing Assistants

The shortage of Certified Nursing Assistants in Aging Services is reaching a critical point.  Piled on top of the current shortage is the projected need.  However, systemic and sustainable solutions have evaded the industry.

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for personal care aides to grow by an astounding 38%  to the year 2026.  Consequently,  this leaves many aging services providers panicked and scrambling to attract and retain qualified and caring nursing assistants.

More importantly, we need a new generation of dedicated persons who have a calling and see this work as their vocation.

Expecting a high level of dedication from nursing assistants in an industry that does very little to advance the vocation seems unrealistic. Therefore, creating a vision for a new role of the C.N.A needs attention from a national, state and organizational strategic level.

Possibilities for a New Role

Recently, I had the pleasure to meet with Karen Messer, CEO, and President of LeadingAge Illinois.  Karen and her team are responding to challenges facing association members by developing workforce solutions and resources.

Karen and I discussed ways to elevate the esteem and professional standards of the certified nursing assistant.  As a result, we started running down the list of potential skills-building opportunities.  Noteworthy ideas include fall prevention expert, medication aide, dementia care coach.  Also consider life enrichment facilitator, mechanical lift trainer, oral care technician, infection prevention certified.

Adding on specialties and certifications to the vocation of a certified nursing assistant will elevate the esteem of the position.  In addition, it will create a needed career path.

Cash strapped Chief Financial Officers will be concerned about paying more.  Therefore, I encourage organizations to consider the positive impact of reduced hiring and turnover activity, increased census,  and improved job satisfaction and morale of their staff.

Begin with starting a conversation in your community about how you can nurture the potential of your C.N.As.  As a result,  build a sustainable workforce solution to propel your organization into the future.


Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  she provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving to private and professional caregivers.  She is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.

The Case for Robotic Companion Pets in Dementia Care

A woman with dementia and her care partner interact with a robotic companion cat.

We’ve known the benefits of pet therapy for decades; however, care settings may be concerned about safety issues and commitment to maintaining an animal on site. Research on therapeutic assistive robotic pets has emerged in the last decade. Robotic companion pets offer an alternative to, or complement traditional pet therapy and have been shown to have similar positive effects.

Robotic companion pets provide a useful alternative when live animals aren’t feasible. Live pets in care settings bring both benefits and risks. Often the risk prohibits live pets or limits them to only occasional visits. Robotic companion pets have minimal risk associated with them, and research has shown that people with dementia experience similar benefits as interacting with live animals. Used on-demand, robotic pets eliminates scheduling issues. As a result, elders enjoy the benefit of a relationship with a Pet as they desire it.

Benefits of Companion Pets:

These beneficial effects were reported in research studies and observations described by care partners.

Increased Interaction with Others and the Surroundings

  • Increased social interaction between elders when sharing time with the Pet.
  • Some showed greater interest in what was happening in their surroundings.
  • The conversation became more spontaneous.

 Connection to Memories

  • The Pet stimulated sharing memories of the experience with family pets.

Increased Feelings of Self Worth

  • The Pet seemed to restore a sense of purpose while caring for it through brushing, petting, and talking to it.

Decreased Anxiety and Agitation

  • Interacting with the Pet seemed to ease anxiety and, in turn, lessened challenging behavior.

Improved Mood

  • Exhibited playfulness.
  • Facial expression brightened with a smile.

 Physical Response

  • Movement increased while reaching for, holding, and petting the Pet.
  • Elders responded to the tactile (sense of touch) stimulation of the Pet.
  • One study found oxygen saturation increased while interacting with the Pet, apparently from increased motor activity, talking and otherwise interacting with the Pet, resulting in increased respiration.

Reduced Care Partner Burden

  • Some elders cooperate more easily during routine ADL following interaction with the Pet.
  • Many enjoy lingering positive effects following interaction with the Pet and can participate in other activities with more considerable attention.

With Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia on the rise worldwide, there’s a greater need for creative approaches to improve well-being and ease distressed behavior so typical in people with dementia.  Robotic companion pets could play an essential role in the emotional and social wellbeing of people living with dementia in nursing homes, home care, day memory support, hospitals, and hospice settings.

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.

Loneliness in Older Adults: What’s the Impact?


In the past, I assumed that people living in long term care were most vulnerable to feeling lonely. But a situation that arose at a Compassionate Touch workshop taught me otherwise. We were at a large, upscale retirement community.  Some lived in beautiful three bedroom houses.  We typically worked with people in skilled care.  But this particular day, we visited people who lived independently. Therefore I was concerned the training attendees wouldn’t have the desired experience. One participant returned from her visit, visibly shaken.  She reported that the woman she visited had a beautiful home and was well-dressed, but she seemed extremely isolated, lonely, and depressed.  We can’t assume that because an elder still lives “independently” that they are engaged with other people or lead meaningful lives.

The University of California San Francisco completed a study that confirms that loneliness in older adults leads to more rapid physical and mental decline and even death.  According to the study, “The lonely seniors had a 59 percent greater risk of suffering a decline in function, which was defined as being less mobile or less able to take care of daily activities like bathing.”

I often hear isolation and loneliness used together. What’s the difference? Isolation is simply having little contact with other people. It’s an objective measure of the quantity of interaction.  Loneliness is a subjective experience. Lonely people feel distressed by lacking the desired companionship. The key is feeling distressed. Research from the National Institute on Aging suggests that simply living alone doesn’t always lead to loneliness. The experience is quite individual. Some people live alone but lead satisfying lives, while others have others around them, but still, feel lonely.

Seniors living in their own homes may suffer most from isolation. Our society does not foster the idea of caring for our older neighbors. Families today scatter across the country. Lots of older people look forward to doctor’s visits because it’s the highlight of their week.

We will all be older. Maybe we can create some goodwill that will be paid forward to us if we pay attention to our elder neighbors now. We don’t have to look far to visit an elder in need of companionship.

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.


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