There is a magic in caring touch.
I guess it’s “old school” now, but when I was a new nurse, patients were put to bed at night with a brief back massage, if they wanted it. It did more good than sleeping pills to comfort and relax. I’ve always found this amazing, and have never forgotten how powerful it can be.
Our culture bombards us with so much erotic touch that we sometimes forget there is any other kind. Everyone, regardless of age or gender needs touch for physical and emotional well being. You hear of therapeutic touch in the neonatal ICU when family members are encouraged to come in and hold infants at risk. There are touch techniques that calm anxiety and panic. The elderly who are alone, without family, may never get touched by anyone. Our skin has nerve endings everywhere and we are in better health if these nerves are stimulated in a comforting way. Therapeutic touch can point out where we are hiding our tension, pain and stiffness, and make those entities lessen, even disappear.
I recently had a cast taken off my left hand and the occupational therapist massaged the surgical scar beneath it. I’m not used to being disabled in any way so this focused attention to touching my hand and arm felt a little weird, but really good. I learned to self massage, but it’s not quite the same as having someone else do it. Therapeutic touch leaves me sure that, at least for that moment, I am the center of someone’s attention. How often do we get that feeling? One of the reasons medical massage is so popular these days is that it meets those emotional and physical needs.
If you are a caretaker, think about those times when you might be able to use therapeutic touch for the benefit of your client or loved one. It might take a while to build confidence if this is not your custom, but you may find that something as simple as a hug, a hand on the shoulder, or a pat on the back can do wonders.
Teepa Snow gives an interesting demonstration of how to calm an anxious dementia patient by using therapeutic touch. I haven’t had to use this yet but I’m tempted to try it on the next anxious person I meet, dementia or not. Check it out.