Vail Daily column: Healing benefits of touch
January 27, 2014
It's so natural that we rarely think about the effects that touch has on each and every one of us, yet touch is one of the most powerful forms of communication available. How often do you take for granted a reassuring touch, pat on the back or hug?
Think about the Pope and the affect his touch has on those who are distraught, homeless or ill. Touching all those people works miracles.
Now consider the nurse who rubs her patient's arm as she describes a difficult procedure she will need to perform. Is the positive effect on that patient any different if that patient is a child or a senior? They both need comfort and support, and touching provides that to both patients.
TOUCH OFTEN DISCOURAGED
Touching, however, has become a risky endeavor in the U.S.
Consider the boss who touches his or her secretary on the shoulder with praise and is slammed with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Or the elementary school teacher who gives a student a hug after a wonderful performance in his or her first band recital and is brought up on formal charges for inappropriate touching. Touching in this country is becoming a hazard activity in which to participate.
I find this sad, as touching is one of the most basic of human needs. The basic human need for touch changes very little as we age. Our culture deems babies touchable, but unfortunately our elders are untouchable, when in fact both groups require touch as much (or more) than the rest of society. If we could only recognize the positive results of touching others, it's possible more seniors would be healthier for longer periods.
PROVEN BENEFITS OF TOUCH
The University of Miami School of Medicine has a Touch Research Institute. I read an article that stated the Touch Research Institute has carried out more than 100 studies examining touch and found evidence of significant effects, including faster growth in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased autoimmune disease symptoms, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes and improved immune systems in people with cancer.
Many universities such as Duke, Harvard and Stanford also conduct research on this topic. They have provided several studies showing the significant benefits touch provides in wound healing, pain and anxiety.
We should recognize the value of touching for both the care giver and patient. Considering the fact that all humans require touch of some sort to complete their psychological development and to carry them through life, isn't it about time we began to support the art of massage, shaking hands, hugging and the use of supportive touching in our work places — not to the degree that is abusive but rather in a positive manner?
Touching is often well intentioned and used in a manner that supports instead of degrades someone. Think about it — touching works.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels in Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin, Routt and Moffat counties. He may be reached by visiting http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or calling 970-328-5526.