From the moment we leave the womb, we humans desire and need physical touch from others. As infants, skin to skin contact with our parents is critical for our development and parent-child bonding. Physical touch is how we communicate before we even develop language skills. As we mature, we develop our own personal preferences and desires for human touch. Going about your life, you will come across people with different ways of expressing their need for physical connection. Anything as simple as a high five or handshake, to something more intimate like a hug or a kiss can be considered a mode of satisfying our desire for human touch.
But why is physical touch so important to us?
It is simple! Physical touch increases the natural release of chemicals in the brain known as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals in our brain are called neurotransmitters, and they are responsible for mood regulation allowing us relief from stress and anxiety. Dopamine is also known as the brain’s pleasure chemical, or the “dope” neurotransmitter.
Keep in mind that not all physical touch is positive. Unwanted touching can lead to negative consequences, from feelings of discomfort to activating the central nervous system, also known as our fight of flight response. Touching that is just part of the routine, like receiving assistance with mobility, might not be considered positive touch either, as that touching might be associated with a loss of independence.
It is important to keep this in mind when providing care for our elderly loved ones. We want to ensure that our loved ones experience positive touch, beyond the touching needed for assisting with day to day routine. Combat loneliness and depression in older adults by offering them some positive touch. Each person is unique in their comforts and desires for touch, so be sure to effectively communicate and receive consent before touching. Ask your loved one if they would like a hug. You might just see a smile climb across their face.