When the government’s daily Corona-virus briefings were open to questions from the public, one of the most poignant was from a grandmother who asked, ‘when am I going to be able to hug my grandchildren’? She was referring, of course, to the release from lock-down after weeks of quarantine.
It isn’t that grandparents have been totally out of touch with their families, especially their grandchildren, thanks to their mastery of smart phones, iPads and the like. But they are missing something that is vital for human beings – the impact of the human touch. It is particularly important for the elderly. Former home manager and psycho-geriatric nurse, Janet Jacob, tells of older people in her home who loved her holding their hands or putting an arm around their shoulders, and how those with dementia would reach out and stroke her arm. A hug releases the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, that reduces stress, and strengthens our immune systems.
Dancing with grandma, or grandpa, may well be another activity to add to the list of things to do when the COVID-19 epidemic is behind us. A recently published Israeli study suggests that grandparents dancing with their grandchildren for between 10 and 15 minutes has great benefits for both, with a dramatic impact on mental wellbeing. Grandparents had an improved state of mind, happy memories and uplifted spirits.
Scientists asked 16 dance therapy instructors to partner with their grandmother. Dance movement therapy (DMT) makes use of dance movements in order to boost cognitive, emotional and motor functions. Dancing has been linked to improved muscle strength, balance and endurance, and researchers from the University of Haifa and kibbutzim College see it as important as jogging or working out at home. ‘The sessions “promoted physical activity even when the body was fatigued and weak,’ said researcher Shuper Engelhard, who is now hoping to extend the study to a larger number of participants. And, for the granddaughters – As for the granddaughters, the dance changed their perspective on aging and helped them cope with the eventual death of their grandparents. Both groups expressed gratitude and felt that their connection was stronger after the sessions.