Touching The Elderly
The issue of healthy touch is one that is very dear to my heart. I worked in the field of massage therapy for over 15 years: as a practitioner with my own client base and also as the owner of a State Approved Massage School. I taught massage therapy for I0 years and witnessed first-hand the relaxing, satisfying and gentle changes that occur in people’s lives when they became involved in touch therapies.
When I began to work with the elderly, I noticed how rarely many are touched. So often, elderly people live alone and have little contact with the outside world. As their lives slow down or as physical illness takes its toll, many elderly become more and more home bound. Many move to Assisted Living Facilities and, although surrounded by others, rarely receive the simple gift of a hug.
I also became aware that I should not assume that touching someone – even the gesture of a light hug – would be a pleasant experience for them. In situations where there has been physical or sexual abuse, a person may be afraid, reticent or uninterested in acceptable ways of being touched. Many people have grown up without having touch as part of their lives and are not comfortable receiving touch. In one of my caregiving experiences, after I grew close to a particular client, I once greeted her by asking if it was okay to give her a hug. I was pleased with her honesty as she told me, “No, no, I don’t hug. My family doesn’t hug.”
Yet, when touch is welcome, it can communicate what words cannot. Touch can say, “I am here for you.” Touch can communicate connection and solace and kindness. Touch can say, “I love you. You are important to me.” Touch can say, “You are not alone.”
I’d like to share with you a couple ideas I’ve used with wonderful results.
Less if often more. The elderly do not require strong touch. Gentle touch usually suffices. If you offer some form of massage, be aware that some elderly people have thin skin....