The Need for Human Touch

No prescription medication can take away loneliness or the feeling of isolation. There may be no words that can make an elderly or ill person feel better, but non-verbal connections, such as a kind touch, can make an elderly person feel as though you care in a way that words, or even deeds, cannot. Often, the elderly do not want to talk and this can be frustrating to a caregiver who is spending days on end doing things for a loved one. Try not to take silence personally. When things around the elderly are moving at a rapid pace, it can be difficult for them to keep up; so they go quietly into their thoughts, which are usually in the past. You don’t have to have conversation to make a connection. A hug, a hand or shoulder massage, an offer to comb or brush the person’s hair, or holding someone’s hand can make all the difference in the world. Human beings all need to experience human touch until the end of our lives. Old skin is just that-old skin. Unless someone has a skin infection or a contagious disease, there is no reason to avoid physical contact.
So often I went to visit Bob (my ex father-in-law whom I cared for for almost 6 years), he was completely non-communicative. He usually sat in his chair with his eyes closed. There were days when I had maneuvered traffic, left meetings early to visit him, cancelled personal appointments because he needed me, or ignored my own needs just to be with him and, when I arrived, I was met with closed eyes and no communication. On those days, I never even got a “hello” or “goodbye.” The first few times this happened, I was full of anger, beyond frustration. Why was I called, What was I supposed to do that the caregiver couldn’t do, One day I arrived at his house and he was silent, and the silence was deafening. I was about to start yelling (purely out of frustration), when he opened his eyes and said, “Will you hold my hand and watch this movie with me,” And in that moment, I got it. He didn’t want to talk. He was just lonely and no professional caregiver could fill his need for family kindness.
Do you ever notice how when the elderly walk, they often take a companion’s arm or hand, I used to think it was for balance, security, stability; but I now believe that it’s also for the human touch-the connection. Not everyone is comfortable with hand-holding. If you are one of these people, try rubbing or patting someone’s shoulder or touching a knee when you are seated next to your loved one. You need to do what is comfortable for you, but human touch is better than most of the medicine the elderly receive.
Nursing home residents often feel so isolated and alone. Doctors and nurses are in and out of the room all day long, but very few have the time, or take the time, to make the touch connection. Imagine, if you can, what touch means to you. What is it like for you when someone holds you or caresses your face or places a supportive hand on your back, Imagine what that feels like for you. Imagine not having it. On those days when you are exhausted, try just being quiet, holding your loved one’s hand, and let the positive feeling flow between the two of you. We all need to be touched. Allow yourself to see past the dementia or the Alzheimer’s or the wrinkled skin or the lost eyes, and try to see the soul that still appreciates a human connection. You won’t regret it.

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