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COVID and Seniors: How The Pandemic Has Made Us More Aware Of The Importance Of Touch

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When it comes to COVID and seniors, this can be a tough time for caregivers and our loved ones alike.

Back in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic became a serious threat in the U.S. This presented interesting and novel challenges when it came to COVID and seniors.

At the beginning of the COVID crisis, orders to shelter-in-place, social distance requirements – and even mandates to avoid simple handshakes and really, any form of human touch – were established.  When this happened, my first thoughts relating to COVID and seniors (or about COVID and anyone) was not about how touch-starved people would become.

But now, nearly one year later, this is where my thoughts have turned.

I am fortunate in that I have my family and pets to hug. But, I have clients, friends and family members – many of whom are single, elderly, and live alone or even some who are in assisted living facilities – who aren’t so lucky. Because many people I know are completely deprived of the companionship of their families and even the simplest human touch, I decided to explore this idea further.

Let me say upfront, not just for COVID and seniors, but also for the community at large, my heart goes out to everyone who is deprived of this most basic of human needs.

COVID and Seniors: A Simple Handshake Is Not So Simple

It’s amazing how much a seemingly simple handshake can mean and communicate to us humans. According to an article on the subject I recently read, “touch releases hormones, including oxytocin—the cuddle hormone—and the endogenous opioids (endorphins) that can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even decrease pain.”

A handshake is often a way that trust is established between two people in business and all new relationships. We’re taught how to give a proper handshake that communicates strength and confidence and trust. In more intimate and personal relationships, we are accustomed to greeting our family members and friends with a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. Being deprived of these simple brief moments of touch didn’t sound like a big deal when this all began.  But, now the strain of being deprived of simple touch is taking its toll.

Famous Studies About The Importance Of Touch

The article I referenced also mentioned Harry Harlow one of the first researchers to study touch systematically back in the 1950s. I remembered studying him in my university days. As memory serves me and according to the recent article, “Harlow removed baby rhesus monkeys from their mothers and randomly assigned them to surrogates—the famous terrycloth “monkeys” and the metal wire “monkeys.” His infant monkeys preferred the soft terrycloth surrogate whether there was food or no food, and only accepted the wire monkey surrogate when there was food. And when a “frightening stimulus” was brought into the cage, the monkeys ran to the cloth surrogate.”

Studies with human infants have also emphasized the importance of physical contact and touch for normal development, including physiological, emotional, and cognitive.

I find myself longing for the small, unconscious ways we touch our friends, colleagues and people with whom we do business. A pat on the back to express a task well-done, a high-five to express joy, an arm around the shoulders to comfort someone when they are sad, even a playful tickle… all of these physical expressions have become socially unacceptable due to COVID-19.

Which makes me all the more hungry for them.

However, it’s hard to say when or even whether we will be able to resume our previously socially-accepted forms of touch. This is especially true when it comes to COVID and seniors.

According to some sources, they say the virus is probably here to stay, recurring intermittently as the seasons come and go. If that’s the case, it’s likely that our newly adopted forms of social distancing may need to exist for possibly years to come.