One day when I was at a care facility visiting my loved one, one of the best aides in the whole place—Angel—dropped by. “I was just wondering if you need anything,” she said.
What a wonderful facility, I thought.
Then she sat down beside him on the sofa and put her arm around his shoulder. I was touched by this gesture.
He responded by reaching up and gently stroking her long blond hair, which cascaded down to her shoulders. It was an innocent gesture which, nonetheless, would have gotten him fired in his previous profession as a university professor of French!
I was mesmerized as I watched them.
The staff at the facility were often openly demonstrative with the residents, and Angel was one of the most affectionate of all. Ed’s mouth transformed into a lovely smile, and I could tell by the expression on his face that her hug made him feel good.
Virgina Satir, quoted in an article by Toni Agnesi, once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” If we need that many hugs just think how many a person with Alzheimer’s must need.”
Bob DeMarco, in “Touching and Smiling,” an article published on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, wrote, “We really can’t live well without touch. Plus, touch is a very powerful form of communication. It has a name – tactile communication. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hug must be worth two thousand for a person who is deeply forgetful.”
Agnesi writes, “Hugs make us feel important, wanted, and loved. Who can resist the hugs of a child or grandchild, burying themselves in your arms?” He continues by stating, “A hug is more powerful than a thousand words!”
(OK, so DeMarco and Agnesi don’t agree on how many thousand words a hug is worth, but they do agree that it’s at least a thousand!)
But what does the research say about this topic? Does it affirm that touch, including touch in the form of hugs, is really beneficial?
An NIH article reports on the largest published study on therapeutic touch. The study’s abstract states, “Outcomes from this continuous quality improvement (CQI) clinical study suggest that therapeutic touch . . . promotes comfort, calmness, and well-being. In addition, patients are highly satisfied with therapeutic touch.”
Marcus Felicetti published an article on the MindBodyGreen website that reviews the scientific research on the benefits of touch. He cites findings of the various research studies on which he reports. I’ll present five of the most important ones here:
- Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.
- Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
- Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the solar plexus chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.
- Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.
- Hugs balance out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect on moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system.
Do any of you make an effort to hug your loved one on a regular basis? If so, how does it make you feel and how does it appear to affect the person you’re hugging?
Written by: Marie Marley
Marie Marley, PhD, is a nationally-recognized author on issues related to Alzheimer’s caregiving. She has published more than 450 articles on the Huffington Post, the French Huffington Post, the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and numerous other sites. She is the author of the uplifting book, “Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy,” which was a finalist for five literary awards. Caregivers say it helped them a lot. Former caregivers have said they wish they’d had it when they were caregivers. She is also the co-author (with neurologist, Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of “Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers.” The Foreword is by Maria Shriver. Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of helpful information for Alzheimer’s caregivers. She lives in Kansas City with her two Shih Tzus.
Contact Dr. Marley at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: A similar version of this story was published on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room.
On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Marie Marley for her contribution to our community website and commitment to Alzheimer’s caregiving.