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Thursday, September 12, 2024

The Science and Power of Touch

We are social and physical beings, but in our culture we are afraid of being inappropriate or giving people the wrong idea. As a result, we’ve been taught to refrain from touching. Researchers have studied the amount of touching that takes place during conversations in various countries only to find we are nearly at the bottom of the list with the least amount of touching. Yet, the emotional and physical health benefits in recent studies established touch as fundamental to human communication, bonding and wellbeing. In other words, Michelangelo might have had it right when he stated, “To touch can be to give life.” Apparently, we are not only able to recognize love, gratitude and compassion through touch, but we can also make a distinction between those categories more easily from touch than through facial and vocal communication. So to answer last week’s questions…yes, touch does mean more than words or actions, and the body recognizes touch as showing we truly care. It turns out that touch is the language of compassion and by touching we spread kindness.

According to Edmund Rolls’ research, touch activates the part of the brain that is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Signals of trust and safety are launched when we are touched that has been proven to calm cardiovascular strain. Oxytocin, known as the love hormone, is released in the brain. Touch reinforces reciprocity; thus, strengthening supportive relationships. A recent study observed NBA basketball teams to discover a connection between touch and winning. Those whose players touch each other more with encouraging pats, hugs and high-fives during games actually win more games. Other studies that monitored brain activity in MRI Scans have shown the calming effect touch provides to counter act threat and stress.

Touch is also transforming the way medicine is practiced. Studies are showing that survival rates have improved in patients with compound diseases when they receive a pat on the back from their doctor. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s patients are more relaxed, less depressed and feel more connected with others in studies when touch is increased. Even students are more likely to participant in class when instructors have offered an encouraging pat on the back.

Get into the habit of touch. Here’s how:

  • Start small by not only shaking hands when you greet someone, but also try patting their arm as you shake their hand to communicate additional goodwill.
  • When handing an item such as a patient’s chart, a business document or even a glass of water to someone, make an effort to place your hand briefly on their arm or back to extend the generosity through touch.
  • During a conversation with someone, momentarily make contact with their forearm or upper arm when emphasizing a point or appreciative compliment of a job well done.
  • If you are a caregiver, sometimes a pat on the shoulder or a squeeze of the hand can offer reassurance or encouragement while a hug can often provide comfort and peace to a resident as well as their family members.
  • If you feel uncomfortable giving pats on the back or arms, you can always try the extended palm up for a high-five or the all too popular fist bump to generate a sense of team spirit.
  • For those you don’t know well, ask before you begin doling out hugs since some folks are particular about their personal space. A simple, “Do you need a hug today?” will do. For those you know and love, hug more often and when you do – hold for 20 seconds (this is the amount of time needed for the bonding chemical Oxytocin to be released in the brain).

Regardless of your approach, the message will be translated and emphasized through your touch. And it has the power to improve the health of your patients, increase the sales within your company, produce a winning team and foster goodwill overall. So, as the classic 1984 AT&T commercial says – Reach out, reach out and touch someone.    

Information taken from:

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living

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