Tender Touch for Seniors

“About Touch: Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a little around”
Leo Buscaglia

As human beings our need for touch is with us from our infancy to our older years. Sadly, for many seniors, as they age and experience more health concerns, touch is often associated with pain or at the very least, discomfort. Undergoing blood draws or other medical procedures may be the only times some seniors feel the touch of another.

Our sense of touch is powerful and nurturing. Touch can convey feelings of caring and concern even when words fail us. Research has shown that people who are touched in a respectful, caring manner experience elevated amounts of oxytocin. This hormone lowers stress levels and can reduce blood pressure and helps increase tolerance of pain.

According to family therapist Virginia Satir, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance.” How many seniors ever receive those hugs.

Many seniors who live alone may not experience a hug or a gentle touch even once a week. With the passing of a spouse or dear friends and relatives, affection may be practically non-existent. This could add to feelings of isolation, loneliness, increased stress, depression and anxiety.

There are ways to be intentional in providing an answer to the lack of touch in the life of a senior.

  1. First, and most important, ask permission. “Is it ok if I give you a hug?” This shows respect for the individual and acknowledges there may be some physical conditions that you might not be aware of. If you are given the OK, be gentle.
  2. Carefully brushing or combing a senior’s hair can be very relaxing for both the giver and receiver. This may be something the senior is not able to do on their own and would be very appreciated.
  3. If the senior has a favorite hand lotion, spend some moments applying to the hands with smooth, light strokes. It is an act of kindness and caring and also helps moisturize the thinner skin of a senior. Offering a foot rub has several benefits. The touch is, of course, important. In addition it also gives the opportunity to check for any signs of problems, especially if the senior is diabetic.
  4. Some therapists suggest professional massages for seniors. Gentle massages can improve blood flow and could ease the pain of arthritis.
  5. Therapy animals have been proven to have an almost magical effect on seniors. They offer unconditional love and snuggles. A session of petting one of these fur friends can elevate the mood of a senior and lower the blood pressure.

When you spend time with the senior in your life offer encouragement with an arm around the shoulder, make a wordless connection by holding their hands in yours, give and receive hugs. These are great and wonderful gifts, priceless and impactful. You may find they have an amazing impact on you both.