A Dear Abby column on January 19, 2012 featured reader responses to an earlier letter from an older woman who asked where to turn when a she wanted to be hugged or listened to. Helpful readers came up with suggestions that ranged from getting a dog to finding a support group. Studies have indeed indicated that the need to touch and be touched plays a vital role in creating a sense of well-being.
Touch is a basic need of all human beings. Unfortunately society tends to discourage this need and many people, especially young children and the elderly, are being deprived of this most basic of human contacts. Our society has become so focused on technological advancement that it is rapidly becoming insensitive to the deeper needs of people. Some people don’t like to have their personal space invaded and volunteers are reminded that they shouldn’t touch a child least it be interpretive as invasive or abusive. It is confusing when you make a phone call and can’t reach a human voice without going through a series of menus, and have you been to an airport lately? You scan your passport, print your boarding pass and pay for the whole deal without one person being available to lend a hand. Even health care providers become more focused on getting the job done than they are about reaching out and touching someone. If they do touch you they are required to wear gloves. It is sad isn’t it?
Humans have a need for touching and nurturing throughout their life span; the need may actually increase with aging. Isolated from family and friends by circumstances they no longer control makes people feel more alone than ever. It is gratifying to know that therapeutic touch has become a “hot item” and studies are being conducted in an effort to make this old fashion source of communication mainstream again. Isn’t it amazing that something as basic as touching someone has become a subject to be studied?
Massage is one form of touch that is being examined. The Herald (Tuesday, December 27, 2011) featured an article by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz on how massage can improve quality of life for older individuals. Massage therapy acts as a conduit for bestowing this basic human need. The need to touch and be touched is as important to an older person as it is to a baby. We need human contact to survive. Some people don’t like to be touched and they make social interaction difficult for others. These people (activists they call themselves) complain to advice columnists that they don’t want germy kisses, hugs, or even handshakes in any form. Everyone has the right to their own feelings, but what kind of message are they sending to the more vulnerable members of society?