Have you experienced the pleasure of J.P. Cormier’s music?
I owe a debt of gratitude to my best friend for introducing me to Cormier’s album Another Morning. In the title track, this Canadian folksinger portrays a day in the life of an 83 year old man, declaring “…the days are growing longer, and I am much too old for anyone to hold.” This beautifully sung ballad prompted me to delve into the origins of its writing, discovering J.P. Cormier’s liner notes: “…I have seen the elderly left behind; by their families, by the deaths of their spouses, by life in general. We, the younger generations, should never let them feel alone. They are the ones who rocked us in our cradles, helped us take our first steps, and paved the way with their sacrifices for us to go about in the world trying to make our own small differences. They should always be remembered and respected for what they have done. This song is for them…”
I passionately believe that nobody is “too old to hold!” Touch is not just for the young and beautiful. Our need for human connection certainly does not decrease with age. On the contrary, healthy touch is a vital part of our lives, absolutely necessary for optimal well-being. I began studying the effects of touch before the birth of my first child, realizing that infants will fail to thrive, even when all other needs are met, unless they are regularly held. I believe this same principle applies to people of all ages. Although it is possible to live with little physical contact, we cannot thrive without it.
A favorite hospice patient of mine lamented the lack of touch in his elder years. I realized that one of the first things the elderly lose is consistent human touch. Isolation, decreased mobility and the loss of cherished friends and family members can make prolonged skin to skin contact a rare event. Certain illnesses, like dementia, dramatically decrease the ability to spontaneously reach out and connect with other people. This is tragic, as research proves that physical touch has a dramatic effect on both our psychological and physical well-being.
I believe there is great cause for hope. I have the highest regard for skilled massage therapists, and I recognize that each of us, trained or not, has an innate capacity to share the warmth of our hands and touch of our skin in life affirming ways. Did you know the magic of our touch can do all this?
- Decrease anxiety
- Improve immune system functioning
- Increase relaxation
- Relieve pain
- Reduce behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
And it’s so easy to do. I rarely have time to give lengthy massages, and I doubt you do, either. However, just five minutes, twice a day, of regular skin contact can make a world of difference in someone’s life.
In the powerful book, The Continuum Concept, Jean Liedloff presents a compelling argument that in order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings — especially babies — require the kind of experience to which our species adapted during the long process of our evolution. For an infant, these include such experiences as “having constant physical contact with his mother (or another familiar caregiver as needed) from birth, having caregivers immediately respond to his signals without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of his needs, and sensing his elders’ expectations that he is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he is welcome and worthy.” Liedloff challenges us to consider the possibility that if the touch intensive, “in-arms” phase is missed during infancy and early childhood, the potential is there for us to remedy the situation with healthy touch at any point we choose in life.
Therefore, rather than rushing through my busy day with a minimum of touch, I remind myself to slow down and be physically present with the people in my life. Gently massaging a loved one’s hands, feet and shoulders, giving a tender hug, and even brushing someone’s hair softly can bring a welcome sense of relaxation, comfort and connection to friends and family of all ages.