Why Touch Matters
“I think touch remains way too little understood and rarely appreciated. It’s scarcely given to those who probably need it the most.”
I’ve learned many things from living with a family member who has Alzheimer’s. There’s an irony to being taught something new by someone who, day by day, is gradually losing their mental faculties. Greater knowledge and awareness can have unanticipated origins. In odd ways, and in ways we least expect, we can all be teachers to one another.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is just how important *human touch* is to everyone. Especially the elderly. And, particularly — those with diminishing sensory perception. For those who can no longer communicate through hearing and speaking, touch becomes the final cognitive point of human contact. Whether we’re 9 months or 90 years, touch is essential to living and being.
We don’t think much about touch, or at least I didn’t, not until I experienced its connection to happiness first-hand. Humans need to be touched. Animals need this, too. There have been studies done with animals that were placed in isolation and didn’t receive touch from other animals. Over time, they became agitated, increasingly anti-social, and dangerous. Dogs. Cats. Humans. We all need to be touched.
Sadly, I think touch remains way too little understood and rarely appreciated. It’s scarcely given to those who probably need it the most. Who among us hasn’t felt awkward when an old person grabs our hand or takes a few extra seconds to give us a hug? We tend to laugh off these moments, disregarding the human need to touch as so-called “senior” episodes. We dismiss them as extraneous, and even inappropriate, when in fact, they quench a thirst and feed a hunger. Seniors most of all, thirst and hunger to touch.
As I said, I’ve learned this by working with a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s. Often, when she grabs my hand, I no longer pull it away as I used to. I let her hold it. Many times, she smiles. Other times, she doesn’t. But touching another person means something, that is, something’s happening when two humans are touching.
The holiday season is upon us now. Many will see their relatives in the weeks to come. Most of us will have contact with people we don’t see very often. Some of us will even spend time with people who don’t get much attention, nor human interaction. I hope this brief reflection will make someone out there ponder these precious moments to come. Please. Do not underestimate them. They will be important moments, perhaps even the final moments of the lives of some we know and love. Those moments are enhanced by touch.
We not only need to learn more about touch, but to appreciate it also, and certainly practice it more.
So true, and thank you for reminding us. I take care of my 85-yr old mother and I know she really enjoys it when I slow down and spend a few extra minutes drying her back and rubbing lotion on her after her bath. As for me, my husband died ten years ago, so I get my contact from my two dogs… I’m not sure I remember what a real hug feels like…
Mary–Not to diminish your post or the poignancy of the message, but aren’t dogs great? I’m not sure what we would do without them (and cats, too).
All the best,
Oh, I’m afraid I DO know what I would do without them… I suffer from bipolar depression and the only reasons I haven’t taken too many pills are my mom and my dogs. Sometimes I get in a hurry for Mom to pass so I can go too, but then I think, “But what about the dogs?”… so I’m pretty sure they literally keep me alive. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my message, Nolan. It means alot to me.