The healing power of hugs for seniors

Excerpt: A hug, pat on the shoulder and other forms of physical touch offer many health benefits, especially for seniors, who often get touched less often. Studies indicates that therapeutic touch can ease pain, improve sleep, ease anxiety and calm agitation in older adults with dementia. Physical touch can also help lower heart rate and improve blood flow, increase alertness, and ease the stress of interpersonal conflicts.


The healing power of touch is especially important for seniors, who are less sensitive to touch because they lose nerve endings in the skin with aging* and often get touched less frequently,* according to the University of Miami.

Here are some of the many ways that human touch can heal and make each day better:

  1. Ease pain and improve sleep
    Older adults living with chronic pain experienced less pain, fewer depression symptoms and improved sleep quality* following eight sessions of therapeutic touch, reported a University of São Paulo School of Nursing study.

  2. Reduce anxiety
    Therapeutic touch sessions of 20 minutes significantly reduced musculoskeletal pain and anxiety* among older adults from retirement communities, long term care residences, adult day programs and community senior centres, according to an Integrative Medicine study.

  3. Calm agitation
    The use of therapeutic touch reduced agitated behaviours among long term care community residents with Alzheimer’s disease,* reported a University of Manitoba study in the Western Journal of Nursing Research. Seniors living in retirement residences with behavioural challenges who received therapeutic touch showed less restlessness, wandering, shouting or crying,* according to an Australian Nursing Journal study.

  4. Heal physical illnesses
    Seniors living in a retirement residence with physical ailments had lower respiratory and heart rates, more relaxed muscles, improved blood flow and reduced edema in the body* after receiving therapeutic touch, the Australian Nursing Journal said.

  5. Lower infection risk
    People managing high levels of stress had a reduced risk of infection after being exposed to a cold virus when they received more frequent hugs,* according to a Carnegie Mellon University study.

  6. Increase alertness
    Hand massage and essential oils applied by staff and family members to seniors in an adult day program centre increased alertness and decreased social withdrawal,* reported an International Journal of Nursing Practice study.

  7. Ease conflict stress
    People who were hugged more often were less affected by interpersonal conflicts,* according to a PLoS study. Touch deactivates the part of the brain that responds to threats, so fewer stress hormones are released, and it activates the feel-good hormone oxytocin,* which helps people react more calmly to socially threatening experiences, the researchers explained.

*The following sources are references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Cute Calendar. “National Hug Day 2020. (2019), online: https://www.cute-calendar.com/event/national-hug-day/36127.html

2. American Association of Retired People. “The power of touch.” (2015), online: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2015/power-of-touch.html

3. University of São Paulo. “The effectiveness of Therapeutic Touch on pain, depression and sleep in patients with chronic pain: clinical trial.” (2010), online: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=s0080-62342010000400035&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en

4. Integrative Medicine. “Effects of therapeutic touch in reducing pain and anxiety in an elderly population.” (1998), online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1096219098000365

5. Western Journal of Nursing Research. “Therapeutic touch and agitation in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.” (2007), online: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0193945907305126

6. Australian Nursing Journal. “Therapeutic touch: Its application for residents in aged care.” (2005), online: http://www.healthyoutlook.com.au/images/0502_clin_update.pdf

7. Health.com. “4 reasons why hugs are good for your health.” (2017), online: https://www.health.com/relationships/health-benefits-hugs

8. Provider magazine. “The healing power of touch for LTC residents.” (2010), online: http://www.providermagazine.com/archives/archives-2010/Pages/0410/The-Healing-Power-Of-Touch-For-LTC-Residents.aspx

9. NBC News. “The health benefits of hugging.” (2018), online: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/health-benefits-hugging-ncna920751