Something very important to us is the language of touch. ‘The communications we transmit through touch constitute the most powerful means of establishing human relationships, the foundation of experience…’ wrote anthropologist Anthony Montague in his book, ‘Touching, the Human Significance of the Skin.’
Touch is vital. Former care home manager Janet says that it’s impossible to be with people with dementia without feeling their touch. ‘You’ll be standing, talking to someone when you feel your arm being stroked, she said, ‘it will be someone else wanting to make contact with you and they want you to know they’re there. And it can be their way of saying they appreciate you.’
Then there’s the really deep touch, the hug. One of the frequent pleas in lock-down was ‘when will I be able to hug my grandchildren again?’ It wasn’t until we were prevented from hugging friends and family that we realised just how important it is for many aspects of our health—including our mental health. When someone is hugged the brain’s emotion processing network induces a cascade of neurochemical signals, which have proven health benefits. Some of the neurochemicals include the hormone oxytocin, which, as well as having an important role in social bonding, slows down heart rate, and reduces stress and anxiety levels. And the release of endorphins brings immediate feelings of pleasure and well-being.
Now Cardiff Metropolitan University has released a therapeutic hug device for people with advanced dementia. It looks like a large, soft doll, with long arms and legs. It’s been fitted with an MP3 music player linked to a hard drive so that carers can upload music from several different platforms. Trials over the past six months showed that it improved the wellbeing of 87% of those who used it. You can see it and purchase it from the website https://hug.world/.
(1) Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montague, 1986, Harper & Row, New York