Today is National Hugging Day. As far as I can tell, there is no organization behind it and the day is nothing more than a listing on Chase's Calendar (and similar calendars) – that compendium of celebrations of silliness or, often, just brand names for marketing purposes.
But for the purposes of this blog, it is an opportunity to talk about the importance of touch to humans and how little of it elders experience.
”...human touch fosters trust and cooperation, even generosity,” writes Karen Brannen at LeadingAge. “It provides a sense of social support and wellbeing both physical and emotional...
“I've seen firsthand how the warmth of simple touching can transcend age and time. No matter how old we get, most of us love to have our hands held, get touched on the shoulder, or just enjoy a genuine, old-fashioned hug.”
"The sense of touch is so powerful that some experts recommend elderly clients receive regular, professional massages. Massages in general are not meant to convey affection, but use the power of touch in another way.
"Gentle kneading of muscles helps release tension, can improve blood flow through the body and ease the pain of arthritis. While no affection is involved during a professional massage, oxytocin released in the body during the process produces the same comforting effects.
Writing last year in the Evansville Courier and Press, Professor Emeritus Hanns Pieper of Sociology and Gerontology at the University of Evansville noted:
”While other important senses such as vision and hearing usually decline as a normal part of the aging process, touch remains a viable and important sense. Just as the importance of touch increases, many seniors become more seriously touch deprived. In fact, they experience less touch than any other age group.”
Tara Cortes is the executive director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University.
"We do know that just the touching of a person to another person, just the warmness, creates a sense of calmness and security," Cortes said.
“More than just chatting, playing games or even holding hands, giving focused, attentive touch establishes an intimate, nurturing bond that expresses caring, [massage therapist Dawn] Nelson said.
“She has seen it ease the symptoms of touch deprivation, such as grouchiness, irritability, and a lack of interest in life and people.”
Although I am generally happy living alone, I am one of those touch-deprived elders. Our culture does not foster touching and, in fact, seems to actively discourage it so that unless a person is a small child with a parent or two, or half of a married couple, there is little if any touching especially among old people.
With all this in mind, I wouldn't go around hugging people willy-nilly if I were you but it so improves life that it is a good thing to do – for everyone. Ask first and if an opportunity comes up for it, today would be a good day to start.
ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.