Touch can be an important part of dementia care.
For most of her life, my mother Clara’s feet hurt. And it’s no wonder. She had multiple old broken toes, and she had osteoarthritis. If that wasn’t enough, she often had bunions. Some of the pain was relieved by changing her shoes from heels to oxfords with a sturdy sole.
One of the ways we connected was by giving her a pedicure. I would soak her feet in a warm foot bath. When the water began to cool, I would sit on the floor and gently remove her feet. Then dry them with a soft towel, being careful to dry between her toes.
Then I’d trim her toenails. She had thick misshapen nails. Gentle patience was the key to trimming her nails. Some of the nails were too thick to cut, so I would use a file to file them. Always being cautious to not injure her skin, which was fragile.
It was my way of giving her some extra Tender Loving Care, and she always smiled and seemed happier afterwards. Of course part of it was likely due to her cold feet feeling warm, on those days they were cold.
When considering touch in dementia care, be sure to honor your carereceiver’s preferences for being touched. This shows respect and allows him to have some control over the situation. Explaining what you’re doing step by step can also be calming. Stop if he seems to be becoming upset or uncomfortable.
What can touch do?
A gentle touch can…
- Calm agitation
- Decrease heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease pain
- Improve mood
- Decrease stress hormones
What are examples?
- Manicures and pedicures
- Hand lotion rubs
- Licensed Massage Therapy
- Hand holding
- Hair brushing or combing
- Shoulder hug or pat on the arm
Caring for someone means more than meeting their physical needs. Failure to thrive is a real condition discovered in orphanages years ago, when the babies and young children were not touched except to meet their physical needs. If babies and children need touch to thrive, it makes sense that others do too.
And another form of touch petting a dog or cat has also shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate and increase happiness. Assuming of course the person doing the petting enjoys it!
The right touch can convey your love and compassion when words are not adequate or understood.
What ways have you found to use touch in dementia care?
To your Happy & Healthy Caregiving,
Ina Gilmore MD
Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador
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