The Importance and Health Benefits of Physical Touch

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Physical touch forms the very foundation of human communication, bonding, and health.  Most of us take it for granted as a common part of our daily lives. Not so the lonely or isolated.  Research demonstrates that, especially amongst the elderly, touch deprivation is a very real problem that can have a powerful negative impact on the human psyche, preventing us from experiencing happiness or wellbeing. 

The Facts:

  • Neurologists explain that physical touch is processed by the reward centre in the central nervous system and is vital for emotional health.  
  • Psychologists add that stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress.  
  • Touch even strengthens the immune system as it stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells. These in turn keep one healthy and disease free.  
  • Touch also stimulates the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is central to memory.
  • Touch can improve range of motion and circulation, rub away tension and cause a reduction of spasms and pain.
  • It releases natural substances called endorphins in the body to reduce pain and elevate mood.  Medical studies have proved that beneficial touch, such as massage, has the same impact as the antidepressant Prozac, increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin while reducing stress hormone levels.

The Feelings:

The simple, indisputable pleasure of a hand held, the sensation of a warm cheek against ours, the reassurance of soft, stroking fingers along the skin, the comfort of arms wrapped around our shoulders in loving embrace, the joy of a gentle kiss… such confirmations of love and respect cause the release of hormones and neuropeptides that are linked to positive and uplifting emotions.  They are calming, soothing, and bring solace of a kind that no amount of money can buy.

Appropriate Touch 

These useful tips will ensure the best use of touch, both if you’re a “parent” to an elderly parent or simply someone who cares enough to visit senior citizens over this coming Easter as part of a community initiative.  A better gift for the elderly, who are inclined to feel lonely over festive seasons, you could not give – the skin is the largest organ in the body and touch is human’s natural way of conveying compassion and caring. Here’s how to touch with tact:

  • Ask permission. This gives the recipient a sense of control and doesn’t violate their personal space. It’s as simple as posing the question:  May I hold your hand?
  • Assess the person’s nature.  Some people are more receptive to touch than others.  Be on the alert for signs of recoil and don’t be insistent.
  • Keep it simple. Being unnecessarily effusive can cause awkwardness and recoil. A simple pat on the arm says more than many words.
  • Be passive, not aggressive. Don’t grab someone’s hand; rather extend yours and let them take it. Approach them from the front rather than from the side or behind.
  • Look in their eyes and watch their body language for consent.

A New Gift this Easter

It is a generally accepted truth that there is no bigger generosity than giving somebody some of your time and effort.  With Easter coming up it would be well to remember this.  No amount of chocolate Easter eggs bought hurriedly in a supermarket can sweeten the bitter pill of loneliness.  It will provide no psychological or physical benefit.  Invest time, consideration and effort into a gift so that it radiates positivism and care. And as it is also Health Awareness Month in April, give your gift that extra amount of thought. Decorate hardboiled eggs, make nut and seed cookies, dip fruit into chocolate… this way you can make up a wonderful gift and flower basket that will lift both body and soul.

Or, you can set the standard snacks idea aside and select a lasting item to express your feelings: a broach, bracelet or necklace inscribed with a heart-warming message, a meaningful book or beautiful puzzle … a gift that gives hope and inspiration. But, above all, remind the recipient how important they are as part of your own celebration.

“Human beings can withstand a week without water, two weeks without food, many years of homelessness, but not loneliness.  It is the worst of all tortures, the worst of all sufferings.” 
- Paulo Coelho

As we grow older, touch is the magic medicine that transcends age and time.  A simple foot or hand rub conveys a message in a way words or gifts cannot.  So don’t forget to take that gift of touch along with the wrapped one!  Reach out to an elderly loved one, and watch the loneliness melt away into a smile. Your reward will doubtless be an answering smile flowering within you…

The Helderberg Society for the Aged 

The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of mutual support and care.  

We pride ourselves on nurturing a sense of belonging, so that growing old does not translate as isolation, loneliness and depression. We encourage appropriate touch as a vital part of both physical and emotional wellbeing. 

We believe life should be lived to the fullest for all the people within our services which encompass Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home Based Care and Frail Care. 

Learn more at:  www.hsfa.org.za 

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Guest Sunday, 24 March 2019

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