In today’s society, human touch has become a somewhat controversial issue. Unwelcome contact from a stranger after all, is regarded as an intrusion. This sentiment though, has meant that the positives of human contact are often overlooked, with many shying away for fear of a negative reaction.
In a care environment however, human touch is a key element of establishing a bond and demonstrating that we do just that; care.
A simple touch of the arm can provide sensory reassurance, calming a person in distress or providing comfort when upset.
So, let’s look at some of the benefits of human touch and why it helps.
Starting very much on a positive, studies have shown that it evokes positive thinking. This is thanks to the hormone oxytocin, which is released via human contact. Babies benefit from it, and so do primates, with adults no different – especially those in their twilight years.
Oxytocin also works to generate a sense of compassion. In a care environment, this is crucial and helps to foster a bond of trust between resident and carer.
Reduces anxiety and stress
Particularly important for carers, given that anxiety impacts on the ability to recall information, another benefit is that it reduces anxiety and stress in residents. This is thanks to neurotransmitters – dopamine and serotonin – which help to improve moods. Dopamine encourages feelings of pleasure, helping to counteract anxious feelings, while serotonin helps to regulate moods, maintaining an individual’s positive outlook.
Boosts immune system
Physical touch improves the function of the immune system. Lymphocytes (white blood cells; in this case known as natural killer cells) serve as the front line of the immune system. Studies have shown that human touch, and massage in particular, helps to reduce cortisol (a stress hormone), which kills natural killer cells. Given this side effect, human contact can provide a welcome boost to your immune system as a result.
Lowers blood pressure
Another reported benefit is the lowering of blood pressure. Although in this instance focusing on the relationship between partners, one study found that frequent hugs led to a reduction in blood pressure, probably thanks to the increase in oxytocin, with its anti-stress-like effects. From personal experience, you’re probably aware that a good hug can make you feel better when upset and science proves there’s truth in this.
Much is to be said in favour of human contact. At Goatacre, we take our individual residents’ preferences into account, however we’re always happy to offer a comforting hand to those in need – something that has more underlying benefits than might at first be apparent.