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Touch and Kindness in Dementia Care

The Importance of Touch and Kindness in Dementia Care

In advance of ‘Hugging Day’ on 21st January, we wanted to take a look at a phenomenon we experience every day at Eastleigh. We witness how the physical TLC of a carer holding a dementia resident’s hand, or a family member giving them a hug, calms, soothes and can instil a sense of wellbeing. Indeed, it even helps with communication.

So why are touch and kindness so important in dementia care?

The science of touch

Research studies show that: “touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” In fact, the touch of a hand, or a hug, can convey both compassion and security. For dementia patients who can struggle with verbal communication, a simple touch of the hand can work wonders.

That’s what Hugging Day is about: celebrating the benefits of physical touch from relieving stress to releasing oxytocin, the happiness hormone. But really, we don’t just need one day to show it!

The importance of touch with dementia

This all becomes increasingly fascinating when we look at the power of human touch for those with dementia. Studies have shown that a simple five to ten minute hand massage reduces both stress and aggressive behaviours in dementia patients. It reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels whilst also raising serotonin (which makes us feel calm and less anxious).

As loved ones of dementia patients, and as caregivers in residential settings like Eastleigh Care Homes, family and carers have an important part to play.

At Eastleigh, our caregivers are specifically trained in dementia care. Appropriate physical touch can include holding a hand, help with physical care needs, and the like. By showing that care is given compassionately, our residents feel secure, valued and cared for. This combines with additional approaches, such as our dementia-friendly lighting and memory work, to ensure your loved one feels very much at ease in our care.

For you, as a loved one, it underlines the role you can play. A simple hug when you visit, or laying your hand on your family member’s arm, can communicate compassion and reassurance in a way which may be harder to convey when talking alone.

Touch as communication

With dementia, understanding can become scrambled. It’s very normal for feelings of anxiety to rise as dementia progresses. It can be overwhelming and agitating for the sufferer. Touch can aid communication, through reassurance, without relying on words.

We know this applies throughout our whole lives. Babies not exposed to caring touch, whilst still having their physical needs met, can suffer from failure to thrive. Old age, and dementia, can in many ways be a ‘second childhood’. Lack of touch and kindness can result in similarly devastating effects on elderly residents with dementia.

How can we provide kindness and touch to dementia patients?

There are numerous ways that we can all use the power of touch to help someone with dementia. Here are some suggestions:

  • Manicures and rubbing in hand lotion
  • Holding hands
  • Laying a hand on the forearm
  • Hair brushing and combing
  • Physical assistance when walking
  • Arranging professional massage therapy

Do make sure that touch is welcomed. No two people are the same. For a loved one, make sure they are comfortable with your level of touch. When meeting physical care needs, explain what you are doing and how, and always respect their personal space.

Whilst of course we must take care to ensure that touch is welcomed, appropriate and beneficial, we also shouldn’t lose sight of its immense power to help. Used appropriately and thoughtfully, touch and kindness work wonders.

Caring touch is just one element of the outstanding care provided to dementia residents at our Raleigh Mead home. Our specialist dementia carers work to provide a safe and nurturing environment, also using phased lighting and dementia-friendly furniture. You can find out more about our dementia care, here.